Harper Grae is, without a doubt, a country girl. Born and raised in Reeltown, Alabama, she made her way to Auburn University, which was the first step in what would become her path to being one of the Next Women of Country!
“I started out thinking I might want him to be a teacher, and then quickly realized that wasn't for me,” Grae said of her arrival at Auburn, “and that angels really are the teachers in this world, and they need to be in that space ... so I quickly change to musical theater, okay, where I fit in much better!”
By the time she was a senior, she auditioned for the Glee Project and was cast. Heading to Hollywood took her west of the Mississippi for the first time.
“I was definitely a duck out of water going to Hollywood. But it was seriously one of the best masterclasses I could have ever gotten in this industry, not only on the TV and film side of things, but also it made me realize that my heart was in country music.”
When the show wrapped, therefore, Grae completed her degree and headed for Nashville.
“I had been writing music for a very long time but then getting in Nashville, you know, it's the whole art of songwriting really became my life and I love being able to story tell through song and Nashville really did cultivate that art for me and gave me the opportunity to really learn and understand how to express myself not only by myself but with others in a collaborative form too. That was something that was missing definitely in Alabama: it was definitely just ‘all on your own, figure it out.’”
After initially finding the environment discouraging, Grae received advice from her aunt that kept her from throwing in the towel.
“She was the one who told me ‘you can't do anything in six months well, so, if this is what you want to do, then you need to figure it out, stick it out.’ And I got like a second job as a swim coach and just started doing so much more and understood that there's not one actual route to success…”
“I figured out really quickly just in the songwriting space that everything really does start with a song in Nashville, like the Nashville Songwriters Association says... I noticed people either bartend or they do coffee, and I'm a morning person, so I was like, 'Okay, I'm gonna do the early coffee shifts, and then that leaves my schedule for writing.'”
One of her mentors, Pat Alger, who had worked with artists like Garth Brooks, gave her two pieces of advices, she said. The first was to work close to Music Row to put yourself in the right people’s paths.
“And it really did open up so many opportunities, just meeting people through coffee. You meet the people that you want to work with. And they'll think, 'Where do I know you from?' Well, I know your coffee order!”
Alger’s second piece of advice? Don't waste anybody's time, because everyone's time is precious.
“Pat Alger just gave me that fire here in Nashville—that I could do it, and even when no one hears your music, that doesn't mean you're not successful. You're gonna get 500 no’s before one maybe, and if that scares you, then maybe this isn't for you. But it hasn't scared me and that's why I'm still here almost a decade later—I continue to make music and love doing it!”
Asked how being LGBT had impacted her career, Grae said, ""I've been out for a minute. I mean, anybody who knows me has definitely known that I date women. And now I date one woman. But I definitely felt it. And it was not something that I ever said that I wasn't... I just wouldn't talk about it. But I would go to all of the events that I wanted to be, but country music normally wasn't there."
In recent years though, she's seen a big shift. "The country genre is now showing up in spaces where LGBT people are, and it's shining a light in authentic ways versus ways that it is misrepresented. quite honest. So yeah, that's been really cool to be a part of that journey. and be a part of a lot of firsts for you know, CMT did one of their first rainbow rounds and things like that a couple years ago. And it's it's cool to be a part of that conversation."
Being named to the 2021 class of CMT’s Next Women of Country—the first out lesbian to be so named, as far as I am aware—is a huge accomplishment for Grae. It also portends great things for her career.
“Being a member of a class of the Next Women of Country—basically, what they do is really invest in you for a year and beyond. But this year they're investing not only their time and resources, but also getting help and social outreach and understanding who we are as artists and how we can further our careers not only in music, but also as people in our communities.”
“There's also a tour associated with Next Women of Country, so getting out on the road and putting music to the faces that people are seeing on social media... It's essentially offering a ton of opportunities for everyone involved. And it's one of the most diverse classes that they've ever had, which is really exciting to just be a part of that!”
In addition to this exciting development in her career, Grae and her wife are also having a baby in a few short months.Harper Grae with her wife
"I was on the road touring when the pandemic hit, and we assumed it would be fall of this year, or 2022, before I got back on the road. So we gave ourselves like four months, and we were like, 'Let's just try.' We knew we wanted to have kids. And if we could, then it would happen in enough time before I got back on the road. And I got pregnant on the last month of trying! So, yeah, it'll be July 2021. And then as of right now, I'll be hitting the road in October. It worked out perfect."
The process of trying to get pregnant, and her pregnancy, led Grae to reflect through her music on a past loss in a song called “Still Your Mother.”
"'Still Your Mother' is such a personal song for me. I actually experienced a miscarriage earlier in my life. And it took a long time for me to write about it and be comfortable sharing that piece of me... I still haven't put my finger on why I was so quiet about it... When we first started the journey of trying to become pregnant, it just became so much more real that I didn't have closure from that loss in my life."
“And it's something that I think that women who can relate to having a miscarriage—you carry it with you every day, especially on those big days, like Mother's Day, or the due date that was supposed to be that never came to be ... and that's what 'Still Your Mother' is all about—Illustrating loss, but also hope for growth in a new family, which is where we're at now. And I think that it was the most beautiful time to release this song and to just move out of that chapter of my life, still having remembrance for it and really honoring that soul that left that was here for just a short time, but definitely impacted my life in a big way.”Harper Grae by Dire Photography
Along with releasing the song, Grae created a website, stillyourmother.com, where fans can share their own personal stories about miscarriage, rainbow babies, and related experiences.
“I wanted ‘Still Your Mother’ to be not only cathartic for me, but hopefully at least one person can relate to this story and have some healing from it.”
For more from Harper Grae, follow her on Instagram at @HarperGraeMusic.
Cover photo: Harper Grae, photo by Chelsea Thompson