Country Singer RaeLynn Is Not Afraid to Let You Know She Loves Her Country, Family, and Faith Fiercely

It’s easy to see why the audience went crazy as the name “RaeLynn” flashed across the screen during one concert night in Phoenix, Arizona. When the 29-year-old country music star sings about her hometown, or about gettin’ rowdy or raising a daughter or living through her parents’ divorce, she is singing the thoughts and feelings, the memories and hopes, of the thousands of people listening.

For RaeLynn, it’s not about her; it’s about the fans. “I got into country music for the same reason you did,” RaeLynn told the cheering crowd. “For the stories.”

RaeLynn performs for the 2022 AmericaFest, at the Phoenix Convention Center, Arizona. (Courtesy of RaeLynn)

Singing From the Heart

The stories RaeLynn sings are as rich and as varied as America itself. It might be about the comfort of the familiar in a small town from “I Love My Hometown” (which, in RaeLynn’s case, is Baytown, Texas):

I love that mom and pop Wingstop shop
With ten different shades of hot
I love that football field and that wheelin’ dealin’
Down at the used car lot.

It could be the joy of parenting a daughter in “Raisin’ Me a Country Girl”:

She’ll have pink painted on her toes
While she’s drinkin’ from the water hose
Growin’ up where the sweet corn grows
With her Sunday school down the road.

Or being a little bit sassy in “Keep Up”:

Yeah I rock Gucci gang, but I got Baytown twang
That lifted pickup in the parking lot, I own that thing
Yeah, I know my drink might be all pretty pink
But don’t you let that fool you, I’m more backwoods than you think.

Or it might be something more serious. Like child trafficking.

RaeLynn frequently tours around the country, whether headlining or singing as a guest performer with other artists. (Acacia Evans)

“I didn’t really know the severity of it until I became a mom,” RaeLynn said by phone from her home in Nashville. True to her imagewhich is also her realityshe’s taken the time to chat with American Essence between making a green bean casserole and a buttermilk pie the day before Thanksgiving.

“I’d always been a fan of O.U.R.”—referring to Operation Underground Railroad, the nonprofit dedicated to combating child sex trafficking. “But when my daughter was born and I found out how bad it is, the Mama Bear instinct kicked in and I wanted to help. … It’s a real issue. People don’t realize that children go missing every day.”

Mama Bear Raelynn swung into action with the song, “It’s Happening Right Here,” written for the 2022 documentary of the same name. “If you have a platform, God didn’t give you that for nothing. It’s important to speak about things that are going on in the world that some people don’t want to speak about. It’s important to educate yourself on the signs that it’s happening.” She warns in song to be alert to the danger of traffickers:

It’s happenin’ right here
It’s happenin’ right now
Yeah, once you turn the light on
You can’t just turn it out
It’s behind the door, just up the street
Down the hall on a cell phone screen
It’s a wake-up call for us all in the mirror
It’s happenin’ right here
Oh, right here
There’s power when the silence breaks
So for every son and daughter’s sake
A few simple words just might save a life
So we gotta talk, we gotta try, we gotta fight.

Family and Fun

Born Racheal Lynn Woodward to working-class parents, RaeLynn grew up knowing the value of a hard day’s work: “My dad took me to his tire shop every day. I grew up there. It was his dream to own his own business and I would help him. I learned that money doesn’t grow on trees and you have to chase your dream.”

RaeLynn has started teaching her young daughter, Daisy Rae, the same principles by taking her into meetings to see mom at work. “I think it’s important to let Daisy into my world,” she said. Daisy Rae’s dad is former pro athlete Josh Davis, whom RaeLynn married in 2016. Daisy Rae came along in 2021.

“Being a mother and a wife comes first in my life,” RaeLynn said. Balancing family with career “has its hard days and its good days,” but being self-employed at least gives her flexibility. After taking a break from the touring world, she will go back on the road in 2024.

RaeLynn with her husband Joshua Davis and daughter Daisy Rae. (Lauren Moll)

RaeLynn’s career started in 2012 when she appeared on Season 2 of the hit singing competition reality show, “The Voice.” She returned to “The Voice” the following season to debut her single “Boyfriend,” which sold 27,000 copies in its debut week and made RaeLynn the first post-“The Voice” contestant to appear on the Billboard rankings. After that, she sang with Blake Shelton, wrote a song with Miranda Lambert, toured with Garth Brooks, and raced down the path of her dream career. RaeLynn’s 2014 hit “God Made Girls” went platinum, and as of December 2023, she had received 840 million career streams.

RaeLynn was inspired by the giants of the country music industry’s women: Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette. She feels the responsibility of carrying on their legacy, and that means “staying honest and being vulnerable.” One of RaeLynn’s most honest moments in song came with 2016’s “Love Triangle,” a heart-breaking account of being raised the child of divorce, shunted between mom and dad. The song went gold and was praised by critics as an important addition to country music. “I get inspiration from a lot of places, but I definitely write a lot from the heart,” she said.

RaeLynn peruses her favorite records. This part of her house is where she goes to make music. (Adhiraj Chakrabarti for American Essence)

“The next album I’m working on is very special. It goes deeper into the motherhood aspect of where I’m at in life. When you become a mom, everything is raised to the next level,” she added. She has been contemplating, “‘How should I run my family? What do I want my family to look like?’ I’ve been writing from that perspective.”

Of course, it won’t all be strictly serious.

“I picked country music because you have that line of faith and hard work, but also everyone’s having a good time, drinking a beer and talking with friends and listening to songs on the radio.” Her songs go both places.

As a married woman for the last eight years, RaeLynn said faith and family have been at the pinnacle of her life. To fuel her livelier songs, she has had to turn to friends and acquaintances: “I have a lot of single friends, and I’ve heard a lot of crazy stories!” Into her songs they go.

America’s Musical Genre

Songwriting is key to country music because storytelling is what it’s all about. RaeLynn said her songs sometimes start with picking a melody on the guitar and thinking of a lyric to go with it, but they can also begin with words first, followed by music added later. She writes her songs in collaboration with a network of Nashville songwriters.

RaeLynn is openly patriotic. “My patriotism shows because I’m not afraid to talk about it,” she said. “I’ve always been an open book about my love for this country. Right now, it’s especially important not to be timid about how you feel. I recently wrote a song about the importance of the flag.” RaeLynn’s husband, it should be noted, joined the military a year after their marriage.

(Adhiraj Chakrabarti for American Essence)

Country music has had its ups and downs, but for RaeLynn, the present is all up: “Country music is in a good place right now. What gets me excited about Nashville is you still hear great songs coming out. The cream of the crop is writing and recording great new songs. If the great songs stop coming out, then that’s when I’ll stop, too.” She doesn’t see that happening soon.

“I’m inspired by Cody Johnson’s new song, ‘Dirt Cheap.’ As long as we have people like that writing songs about folks who work hard for their families and who believe in this country and what it stands for, then I think we’re going to be alright.”

This article was originally published in American Essence magazine.

Features American Success Entrepreneurs Giving Back

Philanthropist Earl W. Stafford on How Faith Taught Him to Give Wisely: Help People Help Themselves

East of Philadelphia, over the Delaware River, lies a hamlet named Mount Holly. This New Jersey town is where Quakers first settled in the late 1600s. At one time, during the Revolutionary War, it became the state capital.

And, in the late 1940s, Earl W. Stafford was born in this same tight-knit community—a community he dubs “one of those George-Washington-slept-here towns.”

Raised in humble circumstances with meager means, Stafford is one of 12 children. He believes his upbringing made him the industrious business leader and philanthropist he is known for being today. He learned the values of charity, ethics, and kindness surrounded by the love of family and neighbors. “We weren’t rich by any stretch. If we wanted money, we shoveled snow, recycled bottles, cut lawns. It stuck with me,” Stafford recalled. He was fortunate, thanks to a neighborly, business-minded woman, Ms. Mason, who taught him the basics of business selling hot dogs and soft drinks around the block. He said that that entrepreneurial spirit still resonates within him today.

A Business Idea

After high school, Stafford went on to honorably serve in the United States Air Force for two decades, specializing in air traffic control. Equipped with leadership skills, along with an undergraduate degree from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, an MBA from Southern Illinois University, and a graduate certificate from Harvard Business School, Stafford was ready to serve the world.

He had hope for success upon leaving the Air Force. Stafford founded a new aviation-related manufacturing company in Washington, D.C., called Universal Systems & Technology, Inc. (Unitech). He utilized his expertise in air traffic control services to create training programs and simulation technology used by the FAA and the Department of Transportation.

But it was difficult for the first four to five years.

“I wasn’t getting paid, and the lights and phones were sometimes cut off,” he admitted. “We endured; God worked it out for us. I stepped out in faith based on the values I was raised with.”

Stafford’s company eventually rose in revenue to the tune of millions. The success wasn’t lost on him or his faith community.

Stafford (L) and his wife Amanda, following his reenlistment in the Air Force, 1971. (Courtesy of Earl W. Stafford)

“One day, my pastor called me. He wanted me to go to Haiti to build a church. I thought of every reason not to go. But I found myself in Port au Prince, a bit disgruntled,” he said. “After a week or so there, getting dirt under my fingernails,” he continued, “I realized that these people were not looking for a handout. They were looking for a helping hand.”

Humbled by the experience, Stafford returned home with a new perspective. His belief in God opened his heart and eyes to recognizing similar circumstances in which people needed help, he said.

The Meaning of Giving

In serving others, Stafford found purpose outside of his career. In 2002, he founded The Stafford Foundation as a faith-based philanthropic endeavor. One of its capstone projects early on was the People’s Inaugural Project, an initiative to bring disadvantaged Americans to experience Washington, D.C., and celebrate the presidential inauguration in 2009. Stafford’s vision brought together several nonprofits that helped to select and welcome some 400 individuals from all walks of life—including wounded veterans and men and women staying in homeless shelters—and from all over the United States. It was a grand event.

With first-class accommodations and dressed in tuxedos and fine gowns, the charity recipients mingled with multi-millionaires. “You couldn’t tell the haves from the have-nots! They intermingled and integrated into the ball filled with over several thousand people.” Stafford continued for the next five years working side by side with those organizations to support the recipients through job training programs and scholarships. The foundation also ran a “Give Before You Get” program: giving homeless or at-risk populations an opportunity to lend a helping hand by building homes and volunteering at hospitals and assisted living centers.

(Adhiraj Chakrabarti)

These projects allowed Stafford the opportunity to explore exactly how to serve others—to do good in the world. “One of the things the Foundation realized,” said Stafford, “is that we live with our hearts instead of our heads. We want to help everyone.”  He believes that the Lord has helped him find the missions that need the money most.

The work Stafford feels is most pressing today is for the foundation to provide assistance in Africa. Across more than 25 countries, the foundation has helped to build over 20 churches along with orphanages, training centers to teach women to read and write, and a business center to help small businesses grow. “We want to help people to help themselves. In fact, there are more ways to be helpful than writing a check. Helping others doesn’t have to be on a grand scale or on the front page of the news to impact people. We are judged not by what we give but how we give,” he said.

With grandfatherly wisdom, he believes it is important to listen to God. “When God uses you, it doesn’t mean you are the total solution. It means that sometimes you are part of a solution. When I reach the usefulness needed, God allows others to step in and help further.” He believes wholeheartedly that one can impact others in immeasurable ways. In the community where he grew up, if someone was in need, others gathered and tried to help, even if they didn’t have much themselves. “I knew my mother more than once sent a pot of something to a family who needed it more than we did.”

These kinds of values Stafford understood as an obligation to be “your brother’s keeper”—and he says we still have that obligation to each other today. “It’s not about ego. And it’s not about evaluating impact,” he stated. “We must continue to serve and plant the seed, and one day we will see what grew. We can’t be so satisfied with ourselves when we don’t know the impact we have had,” he said.

From January Issue, Volume 3

Features Your Stories

Creativity Is Survival!

My story is set in an imperfect world where it seems like everything can be bought with money. This is in stark contrast to my childhood growing up in Hollywood Beach, California, where life was more about outdoor adventures with my horse. At a young age, the values of truth, trust, honor, and faith were taught to me by my parents. I carried these values into adulthood, believing in them as a foundation of character-building and integrity. To me, this was what built America—freedom, honor, self-respect, and responsibility.

After 14 years of marriage, supporting my husband’s career in the high-end resort field, I asked for a divorce after learning he had a different lifestyle on the side. I moved to the big island of Hawaii. Instead of buying a home, a parcel of incredible beauty called to me. When I bought it, I stood there saying to God, “This is the most beautiful land I’ve ever seen, Lord.”

I prepared the land and planted a Kona coffee orchard of 2,000 trees. I planted grass down the rows to hold the top-soil, with the trees situated further apart allowing the breeze to bring moisture and nutrients to my trees twice a day. This had never been done before, and I was laughed at by many local farmers. I fogged my orchard with an organic seaweed mixture that attracted ladybugs to eat the unwanted scale. As my orchard grew vibrantly, I would drive the tractor through the rows singing and talking to my trees, not knowing this land had been King Kamehameha Royal Gardens back around the year 1824.

Coffee cherries. (Courtesy of Suzanne J. Farrow)

Within five years, my trees tripled the average crop per tree on the Kona Coast, registering at the North Coast Coffee Mill with 95 percent Fancy-Extra Fancy grade! Prior to my coffee tote packaging design that took national packaging awards, all Kona coffee was presented in brown paper bags with peel stick labels. In 1993, after winning 1st place at the Kona Coffee Festival Cupping Event against many large farms, The Chef de Cuisine of the Kona-Kohala Coast five-star resorts adopted my Keopu Mauka Lani Plantation Coffee (the Heavenly Belly of The Mountain) as their representative of Kona coffee. I designed the dessert coffee for the Ritz Carlson Resort Hotel, and I was asked by our state representative to represent the Kona Coffee Industry for several years at the opening of the State Legislature. All this stimulated the Komo brothers, long-time coffee farmers, to want to sell their 228-acre parcel next to my plantation to me at a very low price of $1 million to honor the land their father had left them. They said they had watched me work as hard as they did for years, and couldn’t believe a woman from the high-end five-star resorts world could become so involved with making Kona coffee beautiful.

Kona Coffee at Kailua Bay. (Courtesy of Suzanne J. Farrow)

Their proposal was overwhelming to me. I was still building my coffee business, but I agreed. Later, when I had the land appraised, I was shocked at its $8.2 million appraisal!

The formal business plan I created for this organic, undeveloped land was to set aside ten acres for a Hawaiian Cultural Center so the Hawaiian Historic Society would have a central place to teach its language, arts, crafts, and dance, and 14 acres were set aside at the top for youth outdoor education and school camping since there were no camps for children on the islands at the time.

I interviewed enthusiastic developers including Lucky Bennett, architect of The Mauna Kea Resort, and Adrian Zecha, developer of The Bora Bora Resort Hotel. The plan was for the purchasers of the five-acre parcels to develop Polynesian-style homes to be leased back to the private resort. My coffee company, Keopu Mauka Lani, would install and manage three of their five acres in orchards, giving back a crop share percentage with low agriculture state tax. A real win-win-win!

I interviewed numbers of potential finance partners and because of time restrictions, I decided to take a man who presented himself as being a single investor from Honolulu. I had my attorney check out his credentials. However, as legal partnership documents were created and signed, I learned the man was just “the frontman” for two very powerful “silent partner investors.” They didn’t want me, they wanted all I had pulled together over the years of planning, labor, and investment. I had been duped. I quickly shifted from managing my coffee company to defending against a barrage of hostile legal “takeover” attempts. The silent partners were high-profile agricultural businessmen with mainland markets, Harvard attorneys, a former governor backing them, and connections to investors “with deep pockets.”

The corruption my attorneys and I witnessed over the many years as I struggled to defend what was rightfully mine was overwhelming, to say the least. It involved corruption of controls in the banks, the law firms, courts, and certain politicians. What did I learn from this? Not all human souls upon this earth are honest, caring, and come from an integral foundation—money and power drive many of them. I had trusted these men and the advice of my attorney.

From 1991–2012 (21 years), I fought like a mother tiger trying to protect her cubs. During intense legalities, my attorneys and I had our phones tapped and our lives threatened. Throughout those years, I spent about $1.2 million striving to get justice in the courts. Finally, I won a $2.2 million settlement … only to have the settlement challenged.

I had to leave Hawaii. In 2010, I moved back to Hollywood Beach. I had no alternative but to file for bankruptcy, which took another two years for the court to sort out.

The hard pill to swallow was that the Bankruptcy Trustee didn’t want to investigate the accounting that I requested. Without any investigation of the changed illegal document of a loan agreement from a straight percentage rate into a percent being compounded monthly, the Bankruptcy Trustee agreed with the opposition to grant all my land, development plans, and home, destroying my award-winning Kona Coffee Company and handing over the $2.2 million settlement to the corrupt side. The judge shook her head that the document presented was not researched, but said she would have to grant everything to the corrupt challenging side. I walked out of the courtroom with my family as we dragged our mouths on the floor in disbelief.

During these years, I watched as “white envelopes” of cash bought attorneys and even judges to rule against Hawaii state statutes. Thus, “he who has the most money wins.” I flew back to the Keopu Mauka Lani Plantation to retrieve my belongings and say goodbye.

At 72 years of age, I walked off my land after standing on the old ancient Hawaiian stone wall, overlooking my orchard and 14 miles of Kona Coastline, saying to God, “I never owned this land. I only owned the privilege to direct and protect it … now Lord, I give it back to you. May I learn my lessons of soul … and may those who took it … learn their lessons. Amen.”

These past ten years, in an effort to keep my innate “positive outlook of life,” I have written and illustrated 16 life-value children’s books, through my Lollipop Media Productions, LP. Ten of these books have won national and international awards in book festivals, from Paris, London, and Amsterdam to Chicago, Los Angeles, Hollywood, and the Greater Southwest.

In the Abraham Lincoln book, he shares with the child reader: “Of all the countries in the world, America is the only Country with a Birthday! So why do we celebrate your birthday, my birthday, and America’s birthday?” Questions stimulate curiosity. Curiosity drives passion to know. Life becomes fun and exciting. Using this thread of creativity in learning about life, I’ve just completed 90 “Homeschooling PuPus” (in Hawaii, pupus are delicious appetizers).

Also, I’ve dedicated myself to a visionary project to build The Pavilion and Chapel of Nature to educate children and visitors to the importance nature plays in our everyday lives. We have explored various potential sites in California and Arizona. When I was a student at Arizona State University in the early 1960s, I fell in love with the “organic” architectural designs and creations of Frank Lloyd Wright through Taliesin West. He designed The Trinity Chapel of Nature in 1958 that was never built. I’ve always admired this idea, so going forward we’re hoping to secure necessary financial support for our project to really educate people of nature’s exquisite importance in sustaining life here on planet Earth!

Integrity, honor, faith, love, giving from our soul … these are the real gifts of life … the real happiness that many souls never discover, and that money alone cannot buy.

Walt Disney’s last words to me in the summer of 1964 were: “Suzy, never give up your dreams no matter what anyone says. And always remember, failures are stepping stones to success.”

Love life, be available to life, learn your lessons with the joy of wisdom, and the rewards will come within your heart and soul.

With gratitude, Suzy

Suzy with her rescue dog, Muffin, and two rabbits. (Courtesy of Suzanne J. Farrow)

From Levi jeans with a plaid shirt and blonde pigtails flying, riding her horse Paint as a child, Suzanne Farrow became a polished, knowledgeable young lady at Colorado Women’s College and Arizona State University. Her life over the years expanded into many incredible and creative experiences as an entrepreneur.