Paving Their Own Way: Local LGBT+ and Ally Musicians Speak About Their Experiences

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by Lauren Means

What are you to do when no major label will sign you, no promoters will promote you, and no radio stations will play your music? You do it all yourself. That’s what many LGBT+ artists have to do. We had the opportunity to get insight from local artists on diversity in the music industry, inclusiveness in the business, and their overall take on working in Music City. While their stories are diverse, they are all inspiring.

Cheley Tackett: “Still a Long Way to Go

photo of musician Cheley Tackette b&w close up
Cheley Tackette | courtesy Roaring Frog

photo courtesy Roaring Frog

Cheley Tackett has been singing for as long as she can remember. “I started playing guitar when I was around 10 and started writing songs in my teens,” she says. Cheley moved to Nashville shortly after graduating college and says she cut her teeth and learned her craft from frequenting various writers’ nights in town.  

Having been in the industry for many years, Cheley has some deep insight into the evolution of acceptance in the recording industry. When discussing diversity in the music industry, she says, “I think it’s important to differentiate between the music industry as a whole and the country music industry.” She says she thinks fans and the industry within other genres are more accepting but acknowledges it does seem to be getting better in the country scene. “There are more openly LGBT+ managers, songwriters, industry executives, etc,” says Cheley. 

She also notes that allies, many with star power, seem to be more present and vocal too.  “Various artists have come out, and that’s brave and important at any moment,” explains Cheley, “but most of them have done so only after having peaked in their career.” She says very few country music artists who are high profile have come into their career openly LGBT+ and she can’t think of one that has been in the midst of success and come out of the closet. “Brandi Carlile is having an epic couple of years right now career-wise, and she has always been out, but she’s on the fringes of country music and is considered more folk/Americana,” she says. Cheley does say there is a clear explanation for the lack of “out” country music artists, “There’s still a lot of fear that being out can ruin a career, especially in mainstream country music. So for everything that has gotten better, there’s still a long way to go.”  

As for what is to come in 2020, Cheley recorded a live album at Douglas Corner in August 2019 and she’s working on getting that mixed and mastered and out to the world sometime this year. 

You can keep up with Cheley on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cheleytackettmusic or on Twitter @cheleyt.

John Tucker: “A Light and Voice for All

Musician John Tucker standing against a white background wearing a black bandanna headband, brown shirt and ripped blue jeans
John Tucker | courtesy Jen Rosenstein

photo courtesy Jen Rosenstein

John Tucker, a Nashville musician originally from Columbus, Ohio, says it’s an inspiring time to be doing music. “Distribution is available to everyone and bedroom studios are the new trend. We’re getting to a point where everyone can ‘do’ music and be heard instantly around the world, which only continues to promote the freedom of music itself!” explains John. 

John has always been singing. “My family has a church where my grandmother is the pastor. That’s where I found my soul, singing in the choir and then eventually leading the praise team which was like a concert every Sunday,” he says. He also remembers when he discovered the song “Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman in high school. “Seeing an African American lesbian woman with a guitar singing real folky music really inspired me. I felt seen and represented,” reveals John. 

He did musicals and choir in school and eventually, inspired by Tracy Chapman, started playing guitar in his sophomore year of high school. This is also when he started songwriting. “I’ve pretty much been writing every day since. Music is my everything and I’m severely dedicated to it,” he says.

According to John, Columbus is a pretty cool city with a good mix of suburban and urban communities which is good for raising a family, it’s just not “Music City.” After dropping out of college a few years ago, he packed up and moved to Nashville knowing no one with the hopes to get a publishing deal eventually writing for other artists. 

He was successful in songwriting and a year into writing for others, John started writing for himself, fell in love with it, and then just kept writing. He says this is when everything clicked. “I just started being as honest as I could processing my life and just kind of word vomiting. In that, I realized that I had a lot to say and I wanted to be the one saying it,” remarks John.

Representation is Important

When talking about diversity in the music industry, John says his personal experience has been “chill.” He says, “I started being openly out as of two years ago and have only been putting out music for a year. I say, personally, because I know that is my personal experience and it’s not the same for others.”

Although he identifies as sexually fluid, he says he doesn’t harp on his sexual preference. John shares, “If you ask, I’m an open book but I guess I’ve never been one to want to volunteer the info. I’ve always been a firm believer it’s my business who I’m kissing.” He says it’s more likely to come out in his music because that’s where he’s just journaling his thoughts. However, he’s become aware over the years that representation is important, especially in the music industry, where millions of eyes are and ears are constantly fixated. Having this awareness, John says he is always trying to find ways to educate others about the community when possible and to just be a light and voice for all.

From his perspective, there has been an improvement with the representation of the LGBT+ community over the years. Speaking of Lil’ Nas X, he further states, “No one expected, that last year, an openly gay black man would top the charts and make history with the longest #1 song ever.” John says it’s moments like this where we can succeed, by just being ourselves,and open the minds of the world and make them a bit more receptive to LGBT+ artists. “But in my opinion, usually, when society is ready to be more open minded and accepting, it seems like there’s a quota on how much is allowed to breakthrough because they’re not ready for too much of it yet, so there’s still work to be done. I’d love to see more LGBT+ artists in the forefront,” he says.

With that, his advice for those breaking into the business is “just do you.” John says, “Make something and PUT. IT. OUT. It can be scary but no one will hear you if your music isn’t available!” He also says it’s important to trust the process and take your time. “You’re own your own path, and you’re only competition is yourself,” he explains

John says he’s dropping tons of new music this year and in January he released his first single of the year titled “The Ways.” He describes it as a sad dance track about heartbreak and wanting to tell someone that you miss them, but realizing that just isn’t an option. “The Ways” is now streaming everywhere music is available.

Connect with John Tucker at https://www.johntuckermustlive.com/.

Shelly Fairchild: “It Takes a Thick Skin”

close up photo of musician Shelly Fairchild against a black background wearing a green sequin shirt over a black tank top
Shelly Fairchild | courtesy Allie Granzo

photo courtesy Allie Granzo

Surrounded by a family who loved music, it’s no wonder Shelly Fairchild has become a staple in the Nashville music scene. She grew up singing in a church in Jackson, Mississippi and in high school and college she was in show choir and theatre. This path led her to work in a professional theatre for eight years. Shelly’s move to Nashville came after she saved enough money from playing Patsy Cline in “Always… Patsy Cline” at New Stage Theatre in Jackson, Mississippi. 

She signed her first record deal a few years after her move and toured a lot in support of her first record. But that excitement soon came crumbling down. Shelly explains, “I got dropped from the record label for being gay. I mean, they made up other excuses for dropping me, but I knew the real reason that it was happening.” 

Not to be held down, fast forward a few years later and you could find her singing background vocals on some major records including Jason Aldean, Eric Church, Randy Rogers Band, Trace Adkins, Terri Clark, and Crystal Gayle. Then she went on tour with “the Kween Martina McBride” which she says changed her life. 

From there, she made a crowd-funded record called “Buffalo” and started back playing on The Grand Ole Opry and a few other select shows. Currently, she’s writing songs for television and film and curating a show at Nashville’s famed Lipstick Lounge which Shelly says is “one of my most IMPORTANT jobs at the moment.” Her show is on the first Saturday of every month. She enthusiastically says, “The show is LIT! We have the best time!!” She showcases a few other artists at the top of the show and then closes it out with her full band.

Unequal Representation

When discussing diversity in the music industry, Shelly says it’s safe to say that the music industry, as it pertains to Nashville and “Country Music,” isn’t a very diverse industry. She elaborates by saying, “Most of the artists that everyone knows or that “make it” are white. Most are male. And NO ONE is openly gay. The women, people of any different color, and any LGBTQ person aren’t represented properly and that’s no secret.” She does recognize individuals, like Leslie Fram at CMT, who are trying to change that. She says that Fram has recently announced that starting in 2020 CMT will always have 50/50 male/female videos. 

“We have a long way to go, even though we’ve made progress,” she says. It’s an ongoing issue and her hope is that over the next five to ten years we’ll finally see a reflection of who artists actually are as a people and equal representation in the artists that we are exposed to via all major platforms. “Who knows if it’ll happen,” she says, “but it’s my hope!” 

While there’s still work to be done, Shelly says there’s been improvement in the acceptance of the LGBT+ community, but it’s not a given yet. She notes, “It’s not truly, deeply an “accepted” thing to be gay in this genre or really very many other genres of music. I’m not sure why. We’ve always been here doing the exact same things that straight people are doing. It’s crazy really that we’re still talking about it but alas, here we are!”

No matter how you identify, Shelly says you need really thick skin and an amazing work ethic to make it in music. She says it’s not for the faint of heart and the highs never come without the lows. “It’s a tricky business and can be super, super heartbreaking but it all makes for some really great storytelling!!!” she emphasized.

Shelly is going to be releasing more songs this year but says to expect a different side. “They aren’t really the same kinds of songs that I play when I play my shows with my band. [They will be] very pop/rock & I am more “Americana” with the records I make,” she says. Be on the lookout for her releases with the band The Whiskey Wolves Of The West in April/May of this year.

Find more at https://shellyfairchild.com/home.

Steff Mahan: Staying True to Herself

Steff Mahan with a guitar
Steff Mahan | courtesy Dean Dixon

photo courtesy Dean Dixon

Steff Mahan was raised in a small town in the middle of Illinois. She’s the middle child between two brothers and her parents have been married for over 60 years. She says even though she writes songs about loss of love, she looks at them and still believes in love and forever. She also credits her mom with her love of singing. She says, “My love of singing came from my mom’s side of the family. My grandmother and her four sisters sang in harmony that could’ve kicked the Andrew Sisters asses!”

Steff has been a singer-songwriter since she could crawl. “My mother says I wrote my first song when I was about two. Singing a song of woe about a farmer who had all his animals die. Mom said the song went on and on and on. Apparently the farmer had elephants and gerbils and any animal I could think of dying on him. Poor guy,” she recollects. When she was four, she saw Bobbie Gentry singing “Ode to Billie Joe”. “There she was, long dark hair, white t-shirt, pair of Levi jeans and her guitar. That was it. I’d seen other female country artists sing of course, but they all were wearing dresses and never played the guitar,” she says. Steff says that was the day she told her parents, “I want to do that.” Three years later they got Steff her first guitar.

While she grew up with country music, as she aged she found her own taste in music and discovered pop music. “I fell in love with the melodies of songs like “I’m Not in Love” (10cc), “Bennie and the Jets” (Sir Elton John) and, side note, when I was 10, I got my letter published in Tiger Beat claiming my forever love for David Cassidy,” she says. According to Steff, her favorite band of all time is Fleetwood Mac. She says, “Their writing, their harmonies, their whole Fleetwood Mac-ness. Hearing them changed the way I looked at music. Bobbie Gentry started this crazy dream, Fleetwood Mac inspired me.”

Finding a Place in Nashville

Steff moved to Nashville with a signed contract from a publishing company. She wrote music, played wherever and whenever she could, and made wonderful friends, many who she says are still in her life. 

In the early 90’s, she did a showcase for some labels. “I got offered a record deal with one of the biggest labels at the time. Of course, they didn’t know my sexual orientation, which made me feel horrible – like I was ashamed of who I was,” says Steff. She recalls a night the label took her to a social event for a meet and greet. After she got home, she realized that she had basically lied all night long, using different pronouns, and skirted the issue of boyfriends. “When I got home that night there was my long time partner, who I loved and adored, sleeping sweetly on the couch. If I was ever ashamed, that’s when it was. Ashamed of my dishonesty, and my cowardliness,” recollects Steff. The next day she called a meeting with the label and put it all on the table. “Needless to say, the contract we were negotiating….well, let’s just say I didn’t get a label deal,” she says.

Although that moment broke her heart and maybe ruined her career as a mainstream artist, she knows when she’s looking back on her life that she’ll be able to feel good about being true to who she is.

Catching Up with Acceptance

Steff does say there’ve been improvements with acceptance of the LGBT+ community in the music industry, especially in the publishing side of the business. While pop, rock, and other genres have been excepting for quite some time, according to Steff, country music is a little behind the curve. She explains, “I’m not sure if they promoted an openly gay artist in country music right now, how that would go over. I know they’re out there, and people here in Music City know, but outside the Nashville bubble, it may be rumored, but not conclusive. I hope someday that won’t be the case.” She says the publishers and label heads personally don’t really care, but this is a business and they look at the people who listen to country music and lump them into this category of a certain type of person. “Maybe they should give more credit to people being accepting. I don’t know. It shouldn’t matter, good music is good music,” says Steff

For her personally, she says the LGBT+ community has always been there for her saying, “Most of them have become my friends. They buy merch, they respond to my social media posts, and they let me know they are there for me.”

For those trying to get their foot in the door, she offers the following advice: “Do it for the love of it, do it because you absolutely cannot NOT do it; find your path, stick to it and hone your craft.” She also says to listen. “All people have a story no matter who they are and a good story is always the source of a good song,” says Steff. Most importantly, she says to be thankful and gracious when good things happen and keep enduring when they don’t.

As for now, Steff continues making music and telling stories. She released her sixth CD titled “Enough” a few months ago. She says, “It’s doing pretty well. It was produced by Kathy Mac, who put as much heart into it as I did writing it. It’s not a real toe-tapper, and as a joke I handed out tissues at the release party, but the songs seem to be resonating with a lot of people.” 

More info available at https://www.facebook.com/SteffMahanFans/.

Adam Mac: Doing His Part to Carve the Path

musician Adam Mac standing on an empty street in a white t-shirt, skinny blue jeans, tan boots and a tan hat.
Adam Mac | courtesy Robby Stevens

photo courtesy Robby Stevens

Adam Mac infuses his rural Kentucky roots with grit, soul and blues to create a sound that’s uniquely his own. Tackling topics like equality on his single “Black and White” may not seem like something you would expect from a typical male country artist, but that’s because he’s anything but your typical male country artist. Adam says his earliest memories of falling in love with performing and singing were in church. “Growing up there weren’t a ton of outlets for me in my small town in KY,” he says.

When it comes to diversity in the music industry Adam says, “I’d be lying if I said there aren’t days where I feel frustrated that there isn’t more representation in country music.” Adam does acknowledge the trailblazers out there carving the path and says he’s grateful to feel like he’s playing a part in it. “I know growing up, I can’t think of one person I had to look up to that identified the same as I did. I think it’s so crucial that the generations coming up behind us have those people to show them that it’s okay to love yourself completely for who you are,” he explains.

He’s seen strides being made in the inclusion and acceptance of LGBT+ artists in the music business though. Adam states, “I will absolutely agree that there certainly has been a shift in the past few years. We still have work to do, but I’m willing to put in the work to make changes in the landscape of country music.”

To break into the music industry, Adam says you shouldn’t compare your journey to anyone else’s. He admits, “It’s advice I have to remind myself of from time to time. In the era of social media, it’s easy to put yourself down or feel like you’ve failed in comparison to your peers. That’s not what it’s about. Everyone’s on their own personal journey of growth and discovery.”

Keep your eyes and ears open because Adam has just released a new EP. “I am so proud of [it]. I worked really hard on creating music and videos that I really believe in. I’ve been traveling around playing it for people and the response has been incredible. I’m currently back at work on the next project and am so excited for what’s to come!!!”

Keep track of Adam at http://www.adammacmusic.com/.

Cali Wilson: “Never Compromise Yourself or Who You Love”

singer-songwriter Cali Wilson standing against a black curtain background wearing a black v-neck top and black pants
Cali Wilson | courtesy Denise Mccann photography

photo courtesy Denise Mccann Photography

Cali Wilson is a singer-songwriter originally from a tiny town in Iowa who is now based out of Nashville. She’s been in Nashville for over three years now and she says she loves it. She explains, “It’s where I became more confident as a gay woman and, coincidentally, it’s where I met my fiancée.” She started music very early in life and performed in her first talent show when she was two years old. She says she started playing guitar at 16 and playing professionally shortly thereafter.

She remarks on how before moving to Nashville, she didn’t see much diversity in the music industry. “Now, I see a whole community of LGBT+ songwriters and artists making their mark on the industry. I’ve worked at events curated for this community in the city,” says Cali.

While she has seen improvement in LGBT+ acceptance, she says it’s still a long way from being accepted. “You have trailblazers in the industry that have been in the shadows. There’s a new documentary called “Invisible” that highlights those songwriters and artists,” she says. We are at a better place though and hopefully, it will keep improving. Cali says, “I see songwriters/artists like Shane McAnally or Brandi Carlile that are at the top of their industry being their true self. It’s inspiring.”

Change is Inevitable

Cali notes how music will continuously change saying, “Your music will change. The industry will change. You have to learn how to roll with that and stay true to yourself.” She urges up and coming artists to write the kind of songs they love, to take inspiration from other artists and songs, and to keep improving by writing and singing with people who are better than they are. She says, “Rise to that challenge and you’ll find yourself better for it.” 

But most importantly she says, “I would advise anyone looking for that break to not compromise what you stand for or who you love for the industry.” 

Cali’s most recent single, “Say It First,” dropped on February 21 and she has a few more things lined up including some shows. She will be performing at The 5 Spot in East Nashville on March 12. Cali says, “I’m so excited for the future and the music I have coming out. It’s the best music I’ve written.” 

Hear more of Cali’s music at www.caliwilsonmusic.com/.

Brody Ray: From Nebraska to Nashville

singer Brody Ray wearing a baseball cap and wearing a black tshirt sitting on a nashville bridge
Brody Ray | courtesy Zardopic

Photos courtesy Zardopic

Born and raised in Kearney, Nebraska, Brody Ray grew up with his two sisters, Shannon and Justine. His dad, Gary, owns a construction company and his mother, Sharon, is a caregiver for individuals with special needs. His mother has 11 siblings and Brody says his family is so big that they have to rent out school gymnasiums for family holidays. This big family is also big on love and support for him. He explains, “I always like to mention the fact that all my aunts, uncles and cousins love and support me. I have been very fortunate to have such a wonderful and caring family. People usually seem very shocked by this as we’re from central Nebraska.” Why would it be shocking to have a family full of unconditional love? Unfortunately, there is a fear for many in the LGBT+ community that families will abandon them once they come out. 

“Since as far back as I can remember, I knew I was a boy trapped in a female body,” says Brody. He also acknowledges that he tried everything to help him “pass” as a boy and express himself as such. “I didn’t know how but I knew someday I would find a way to match my body to my brain and I wasn’t afraid to ask my parents for help,” he says. When he was only eight years old he said his mother asked him if he felt he should’ve been born a boy and he said that was their first major breakthrough with the start of his transition. 

They helped him with all the steps along the way. “They always listened and wanted me to be happy, even if it meant a complete total transformation to male,” says Brody. He started his transition in 2011 with his gender-confirming top surgery and taking testosterone injections (hormone replacement therapy). He explained, “This changed my voice and how I sang. I lost my voice completely for about a year. I had to retrain myself to sing. Once I was able to sing again, I finally heard what I had been wanting to hear. A deep male voice.” This was a breakthrough for him because he didn’t want to record music with a female voice. Around 2013 he had the first of four surgeries in Belgrade, Serbia to complete the lower gender-confirming reconstruction. Completing this transition gave him the confidence to pursue music as a full-time career.

Music is in His Blood

“My mother was always singing, playing the piano and accordion with us growing up, so music was a big part of our lives from the very start,” states Brody. Around the same time she asked him about his gender identity, she also asked if he wanted to learn an instrument and Brody chose the guitar. “I had never been more excited in my life when I got to walk into that music store and pick out my first guitar,” he exclaimed. He said he was filled with a new kind of excitement he’d never experienced before. “I still have that guitar, it’s so tiny!” reveals Brody.

At this young age, Brody was picking up other instruments like the Cello and piano and playing in his school orchestras. “I loved all things music. I had found my calling and I was eight,” he says. Becoming more involved in the world of music, he found himself wanting more and more. He picked up singing at age 14 and started performing around town for competitions and local bars. “They would kick me out at 9 pm because I was only 14,” he laughs.

He felt music was the only way he knew how to express himself — that it was the only thing that helped him connect to a world that he felt so disconnected from. “It never let me down, hurt my feelings or broke my heart. Whether it be my anger and frustration for feeling like I was born into the wrong body or the frustration of not being able to tell any girl how I felt about her, music gave me a platform to express these feelings,” he explained. To him, music was something familiar and relatable.

Music Culture = Accepting Culture

Brody says he has always leaned more towards the punk/emo/rock scene as he felt it was more accepting of a transgender person. On the other side, he always felt like country music was targeted for people with more conservative values. He said he always ran into trouble when it came to dealing with the stereotypical “country” person in a social setting because some people would say or do hurtful things as if he was in control over his “situation”. He explains, “I figured that most people who liked country [music] were against me. So it really turned me off for many years. After moving to Nashville in 2017, I slowly started finding myself getting entangled with groups of people with similar interests and lives as mine. I thought that Nashville may not be the most welcoming scene to come out to, but I was wrong!” 

After coming out as transgender on America’s Got Talent (AGT) Season 13, Brody says he was welcomed with open arms and quickly found that Nashville has a very large LGBT+ community and most of the music industry and artists were supporters and allies. “A lot of people really didn’t even think anything of it,” he says. This welcoming environment allowed him to feel he might have a chance to be successful here as an artist and a songwriter. He is aware there are still those who do not welcome LGBT+ individuals openly stating, “You are always going to have that small percentage of people who don’t support you and will tell you that you’ll burn in hell. [Usually] the same people who have not been exposed to or had the chance to learn more about people in the LGBT+ community.” However, he says he’s learned to ignore these types of people because the last thing you want to do is let them get in your way or hold you back from your full potential. 

Overall, he feels the music industry is one of the safest places for members of the LGBT+ community. Brody says, “It’s a place where you are free to express yourself in your own way. Where you don’t have to hide or be ashamed. You are met with love and understanding. A place where everyone makes you feel normal and celebrates you for being open and proud of the way you were born.” He also notes he has seen more country artists from the top 20 charts come out and vocally stand with the LGBT+ community. 

He credits major chart-topping artists vocalizing their support for the LGBT+ community for the overall shift in acceptance. Brody says, “It’s so refreshing to know they have our back. I’ve seen SO many country artists feel safe enough to come out as LGBT+ and they just thrive! There are so many people in music and entertainment finally feeling safe enough to live their truth. These moments in time will be written in our history books. I think there’s work to be done within the industry but I think that it’s so far ahead of many other things.”

He does acknowledge that even with the increase in acceptance, there are still some in the industry who might see him, a transgender person, as a risk in the country music scene. However, he knows they are wrong. Brody says, “I think it’s a great time. I don’t consider myself to be exclusively a country artist. I try to find ways to incorporate my favorite genres from growing up into what I love about today’s country music. Sometimes I have to remind myself that the world is no longer against me and to keep pushing forward and not let my situation discourage me or lead me from my path to music success here.” 

Staying True

His time in the industry has given him insight into what it takes to be successful and break into the industry. Brody’s advice is to stay true to what you love and keep that sound. He says “Be true to what made you fall in love with music in the first place. If you lose that, you lose it all. Don’t write or create something to fit into a box that you think will get you to where you want to be.” 

He says you must have balance in your life. “With your work, music, sleep, money, social and family life find balance. Don’t lock yourself away to get the album done. But don’t waste all your time doing things that aren’t going to get you to the next level,” states Brody.

He also learned some important lessons as a result of his time in the national spotlight on AGT. Brody says, “AGT has shown me that, you can be in the spotlight for a moment. But that moment will eventually fade away and people will forget. Once your spotlight moment passes, that’s the time to keep working towards your next one. If you apply your time and energy wisely to the music and all the opportunities around you, it will give back. Find what inspires you and keep feeding that so you don’t lose it!”

Concerts, Pride Fests, and Films

Currently, Brody is working on some new music with plans to make 2020 bigger than years past. He is writing music, recording, booking for Pride festivals and other gigs around the US, and working on an LGBT+ documentary. He says, “I am working/writing with some very talented people and looking forward to an even more eventful 2020 and all it holds for us.”

He will be sharing all upcoming events on his social media sites – Instagram, Facebook and Twitter under @BrodyRayMusic – and at www.BrodyRay.com.

Tramaine Arte’Mis: Jazzy, Sultry, Soulful

close up photo of musician Tramaine Arte’Mis wearing a purple scarf and black top
Tramaine Arte’Mis

photo courtesy Tramaine Arte’Mis

Tramaine Arte’Mis says her first memories are of harmonizing with her talented family members and landing a solo performance at age three. Born in Knoxville, she immersed herself in music as a child. She distinguished herself in church, high school and college choirs. Tramaine says, “On the stage is where I can let my Locs down and share my heart with the world and off the stage, well, I can still let my Locs down and sit down and have a conversation and share my heart and allow others to share theirs.” She is the person that loves love and that comes out through her music. 

She says here in Nashville is where her music started to flourish. Adopting the reputation “Jazzy, Sultry, Soulful,” Tramaine became widely known for her tremendous range and expressive vocal talents. She says, “Although contemporary and smooth jazz is the genre that I mostly put forth, I am equally at home in traditional jazz, musical theatre, opera, gospel, R&B, and neo-soul.” Her influences range from Etta James, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn to Minnie Riperton, The Bee Gees, Maysa and John Legend. 

The love and ability of musical diversity landed her with opportunities over the years to sing alongside many other artists in Nashville such as backing up artists including R&B national recording artist Kem. Tramaine says, “Moving forward, I am truly blessed, [along] with my amazing band, to have shared the stage with many international contemporary smooth jazz artists at The 88.1 Music City Jazz Festival such as Brian Culbertson, Maysa, and Vail Johnson just to name a few.” This year, she and her band “The Improv 7 Jazz Band,” will share the stage with many more artists at the Fisk Music Festival on June 27.

A Shift in Acceptance

Tramaine notes there has been a “remarkable shift” among the acceptance of LGBT+ individuals in the music industry allowing everyone to be themselves. “For example,” she says, “Lil Nas X. Kudos to him!” She explains allowing creativity to expand and for music to “just be” enables it to bring everyone together. She recalls growing up in the ’80s and ’90s if someone of the older “more closed” generation found out an artist was openly gay or bisexual they were shunned. She stresses, “Now we have evolved and people are realizing that not only is love really love but music is music and it all ties together!!”  

She has four simple steps for anyone to take when trying to break into the music business. She says one should, “Learn the business; Stay Humble; Stay true to you; Be patient in your journey and always be encouraging to others on theirs.”

To keep up with their upcoming shows, you can follow Tramaine Arte’Mis & The Improv 7 Jazz Band at facebook.com/JazzySultrySoulful/. In 2019 she released a Christmas single entitled  “Precious Memories” that will be included on a Christmas EP later this year.

CeJay: “Different In A Small Town”

musician CeJay in a baseball tee and jeans against an orange backdrop
CeJay | courtesy Cody Stallings

photo courtesy Cody Stallings

CeJay grew up in a small town in North Carolina called Clarkton. From there he moved to Wilmington, North Carolina where he started performing, taught himself to play piano and later the guitar. He was also in two duo groups. One with his brother, Ray, who accompanied him playing guitar and the other with his college physics professor, Tim, playing the piano. Both were under the duo name, Chris James. CeJay later moved to Nashville to pursue music on a professional level. “I wrote and recorded an LGBT+ driven EP [“Who You Love”]. I have released three songs so far: “Different In A Small Town,” “Can’t Shake The Feeling,” and “Rollercoaster,” he shares.

Moving to Nashville, CeJay found more diversity in the music industry. He says, “I have seen more diversity in the music community [in Nashville] as compared to where I’m from being the only gay male pursuing music.” He also says the industry is more accepting now than it has been in the past. 

To help break into the business, CeJay says you should network as much as you can. “There are so many people willing to help guide you through this industry if you take the time to be kind and listen to the advice that is given to you,” he says.

You can find the single “Different In A Small Town” streaming now and he’s currently working with Spotify to get the other two songs on major play listings. You can follow CeJay at https://www.cejaytunes.com/.