Will Closed-Minded Country Music Let Lesbian Chely Wright In?

Times' music writer Jon Caramanica also details the 2003 battle between the vulgarly anti-war Dixie Chick Natalie Maines and "reliable jingoist" Toby Keith.

On the Thursday Arts page, music writer Jon Caramanica profiled a trio of country music's prodigal daughters, focusing first on relatively obscure country singer Chely Wright, who is raising the publicity profile for her comeback album by coming out as a lesbian.

The headline frames the country music community as reactionary and intolerant, an idea not supported by anything in Caramanica's text: "A Singer Comes Out; Now Will Nashville Let Her Back In?"

By the time the country singer Chely Wright appeared on "Today" Wednesday morning, the secret was out. This minor star of the 1990s and early 2000s was coming out as a lesbian. During her early years in Nashville, "I knew that I needed to hide this to achieve my dreams," she told the host Natalie Morales.

After noting that Wright's had only one major hit - back in 1999 - Caramanica gave the genre some backhanded praise as not as homophobic as it could be:

Rather, Ms. Wright's high-profile declaration casts a spotlight on the world of country music, which has historically had little room for differences. Ms. Wright's dissent from the genre's talking points - often conservative and religious, though rarely blatantly homophobic - arrived in tandem with the release of her memoir, "Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer" (Pantheon), and a new album, "Lifted Off the Ground" (Painted Red/Vanguard). But the impact of her story is really more powerful on country music's monolithic image than on her own image.

Then Caramanica turned to the debut album from the Court Yard Hounds, a project by two out of three members of the once-famous country threesome The Dixie Chicks (absent anti-war singer/songwriter Natalie Maines).

Caramanica did locate a "reliable jingoist," singling out country star and Iraq War supporter Toby Keith, well-known for his criticism of Maines and his passionate 9-11 song, "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)."

Ms. Wright's album arrived on the same day as the self-titled debut album (on Columbia) by Court Yard Hounds, the project by the two-thirds of the Dixie Chicks - Emily Robison and Martie Maguire - who didn't announce, at a 2003 concert in London, "We're ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas." (That was Natalie Maines, the group's main agitator, who doesn't appear on this album.)

From a financial perspective that sentence cost the Dixie Chicks dearly: once multiplatinum county radio darlings, they've been on an extended hiatus and have all but disappeared from many playlists. They entered into a war of words with Toby Keith, a reliable jingoist and pot stirrer, that only ossified their reputations as antitraditionalists. Now Ms. Robison and Ms. Maguire are in an unusual position: exceedingly famous artists attempting to pass for a new act, free of negative associations.

Maines attacked Keith by wearing a T-shirt slogan ("F.U.T.K.") that was an acronym for a vulgarity aimed at Keith.

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