In many respects, the family trio Chapel Hart from Mississippi has been successful beyond imagination in the music business. As completely independent artists, sisters Danica Hart, Devynn Hart, and cousin Trea Swindle have appeared on big stages in the nine years of hustling to make it in music, and in the six years traveling back and forth to Nashville to try and break through in the industry.
Chapel Hart debuted on the Grand Ole Opry in 2022. Their song “You Can Have Him Jolene” has over 5 million plays on Spotify and earned the praise of Dolly Parton herself. They were personally requested by Loretta Lynn to write the song “Welcome to Fist City” prior to her death. They’ve appeared with numerous major artists both live and in recorded form, including on Darius Rucker’s recent album Carolyn’s Boy.
Most notably, on the 17th season of America’s Got Talent, Chapel Hart earned the coveted “golden buzzer” from all the judges, and competed in the finals. When audiences have been exposed to what Chapel Hart does live, they enjoy it, and it resonates. But recently while attending the CMA Awards, they came to a hard conclusion. Despite all the success, accolades, and recognition they’ve received, they’re never going to “make it” in the music business in the conventional sense. So they’re making a conscious decision to stop trying.
In a video posted on Sunday, November 12th, the trio explained that from now on, they’re going to focus significantly less on the hustle, and much more on simply making music the right way, and connecting with fans. Among other things, this means they will be making a conscious effort to play less public shows, and more schools, Veteran’s hospitals, and others such events. And when they do play public performances, it will be for free to allow the music to reach as many people as possible, and be supported through donation and merch sales.
“We’ve been trying so hard to make it in the music business, to break into the music industry. As many of you know, we’re still independent, and still doing it out here on our own,” Danica Hart explained. “We’re trying our very best to keep up with those who are in the music industry, and on a record label. And in a way I feel like we’ve done pretty well because our names are in conversations.”
“We went to the CMAs the other night, and in the room that only industry people have access to. Every single person knew who Chapel Hart was. Exciting news for us, but also sad news, because for us that means everyone knows who we are, and we still don’t have a record deal, we still don’t have a publishing deal, we still don’t have sponsorships, and we’re still out here busting our tails. We’ve been on the road this year more than we ever have.”
Danica and Chapel Hart also talked about getting booked at 1,200-1,500 capacity venues, but only having 400 people show up for the show. For many independent bands and artists, drawing 400 people to a show would be a big deal. But no matter who you are, if you’re only filling up 1/3rd of the venue you’re booked at, it’s a bad look, even if all 400 of those people had a great time.
This is why you often see artists selling out shows at venues that are too small for them, because the industry wants to see you succeed at certain level before you graduate to bigger spaces. Perhaps with Chapel Hart, they bit off a little more than they could chew after the big success proceeding America’s Got Talent.
“Ultimately, it stops you from being added on to other things because they say you can’t sell tickets,” Danica Hart explained, which has put the trio in a precarious position. Despite their appeal and name recognition, it’s become difficult to impossible for them to positively more forward, at least in the conventional music industry. So they’re deciding instead to stay independent, and restructure their priorities.
“We’re just so tired of trying to compete in an industry that is just making no effort,” Danica said. “This is to serve notice that we are no longer competing in the industry … We’re so busy trying to keep up in an industry who isn’t even acknowledging us when we could be doing the things that really make our heart happy. We’re not here to play fame. We’re not here to get famous. We’re here to serve the people. We’re here to write the songs that makes you feel good from the inside out.”
“We’re deciding to stand 30 toes down … We got to get back to our original commitment. We were here for the people. We were here for our fans … We’re just gonna open the doors. We started to make people happy, to write music that people love, to watch people grow, to grow with our fans.”
Part of the prevailing issue with Chapel Hart has been that they don’t fit perfectly anywhere in the country music world. Though they’re plan was to break through into the mainstream, their independent spirit has kept them from being the kind of malleable stars that will bend to the will of producers and label executives that labels are looking for.
If you listen to Chapel Hart albums and see them perform, their music is a mix of staunchly traditional country, with playful pop sensibilities. This places one foot on each side of the country music cultural divide, which makes it difficult for them to be completely accepted in either world. Then there is the obvious difficulty of trying to launch a trio of Black women in the country music business, which continues to remain a high hurdle.
Another issue was Chapel Hart’s desire to see their dreams fulfilled through the conventional mainstream country music industry as opposed to trying to find their home in the independent world. At one point during their announcement, they explained how there’s only about 50 performers who make it onto mainstream country radio, and they wanted to open shows for just one of them, if not be one of those 50.
Meanwhile, we’re seeing artists who have never had success on country radio breaking out as some of the biggest stars in the industry at the moment. Tyler Childers and Billy Strings are selling out arenas, and Zach Bryan is filling stadiums. It’s a new day in country music, and radio play and Music Row label deals are not the only way to success in the country music business, though most certainly this perception continues to persist among many people, especially in the performer class.
With so many country music festivals these days and those festivals specifically looking for Black performers to fulfill diversity desires, Chapel Hart should be getting big considerations, and well before hip-hop artists like we’re strangely seeing from so many festivals.
Due to their divergent country sound, Chapel Hart has had a hard time finding their home in the music. But if they’re drawing 400 people to live shows, they should be able to support themselves moving forward, and be able to build a bigger grassroots following from that base.
Recalibrating from the dream of mainstream major label/radio success is often the best remedy for an artist demoralized from what’s happening in their country career. Hopefully this will put Chapel Hart on a better track, and open up new opportunities for them in the independent world.