Bri Ray: ‘Woman’

Utah musicians Bri Ray’s battle to return to the stage after she was violated

Story by JONATHAN WISTRCILL

“I was ready for the hold that it had put me in to be gone,” Bri Ray said in a Zoom interview.

Bri is a singer and entrepreneur who was born and raised in Salt Lake City. She fell in love with music at a very young age and began writing her own songs at just 8 years old, easily picking up on instruments such as the piano and violin.

Growing up Bri was shy but felt more comfortable expressing herself through music. She even wrote her first album in the fifth grade. This album though did more than just help Bri, it helped kids in Cambodia as well.

Bri Ray performed for the Excellence in the Community concert series on Feb. 13, 2021. Photo courtesy of Excellence in the Community.

When Bri was in fourth grade her father, Mike Ray, got a new job in Singapore so the whole family moved to the other side of the world. While over there Bri took a trip with her mom to Cambodia where she was touched by the other kids’ generosity. It was Bri’s birthday coming up and she decided she wanted to use the birthday money she was going to receive to help send three kids from Cambodia to school.

“It was such a cool experience and to get notes from the kids about how they were doing in school was an amazing feeling,” Bri said. When their tuition came due again a year later Bri decided to use the money she got from her first album to continue to support them.

When Ray’s parents realized that she was going to seriously pursue a career in music they had two very different reactions. Her father was excited, but her mother, Lynette Ray, was not. Lynette was worried that it would be a tough business to stay true to oneself in and that Bri would be negatively affected by it.

A few key events changed Lynette’s mind. “Seeing that look in her eye when she performed and watching her build other people up using her music made me realize it was what she was meant to do,” Lynette said in a Zoom interview.

While neither of Bri’s parents had a deep love of music her grandmother did. “She is a strong believer in music and had aspirations to be a singer when she was young,” Mike said about his mom’s passion for music over a Zoom interview.

Bri’s music career continued to rise especially after she appeared on the 15th season of “American Idol” in 2016. She was also invited out to Miami for a series of workshops that allowed her to learn from different professionals in the music industry. All this experience allowed Bri to begin touring and performing at different concerts and venues across the country. She also decided college was not for her and that she wanted to focus on her music and other business ventures.

For Bri music was a safe place where she felt more comfortable performing in front of thousands of people rather than talking to someone one on one. That comfort she felt in music was about to disappear.

While she was on tour in 2019 Bri was sexually assaulted.

“When I shared that space with the person that hurt me then it no longer felt safe,” Bri said. “It honestly took me out of the music world for a year and a half.”

Around the same time of this event the #MeToo movement had begun picking up steam with thousands of women speaking out against domestic abuse. One of Bri’s family members was one of these women who told their story. Bri was proud of her for speaking up, but another older member of their family opposed her actions, saying that she would only hurt her chances of getting a job by speaking out. Bri said she’s always believed in speaking out against what was wrong and strongly disagreed with her family member.

Earlier, when Bri was in middle school, she spearheaded a campaign to end bullying and promote acceptance. She wanted to reach her classmates by using stories of her own experiences with bullying and songs she had written to do so.

Bri said she believes “there are people who need those voices that are willing to speak on their behalf and to fight that battle with them.” She believes that every person copes differently and if she can be an advocate for those voices that is exactly what she is going to do.

The decision to be that voice, however, was a difficult one for Bri to reach. Only when she hit rock bottom was she able to bounce back.

“One day I just broke down crying and for the first time in over a year I went over to the piano,” Bri said, finally ready to release the hold the assault had on her.

During the next few hours she sat alone at the piano and wrote a new song called “Woman.”

“It was the first time I had written out and expressed my feelings about the situation and that I was ready for a turning point,” an emotional Bri said. “It really became a source of power and strength for me to pull myself out of this dark place I was in.”

Bri wants to continue to use her platform for change and in 2020 she did so by advocating for social change. She has also started a company called Social Antidote that creates opportunities for people in Salt Lake City to support local musicians and artists.

Bri Ray’s latest song “Tough Love” was released in 2021. Photo courtesy of Excellence in the Community.

Watching her go through such a painful ordeal was extremely difficult for Bri’s parents but they knew she would continue to be strong and fight. “I was proud of her for not letting that stop her. She had a pause, but she got back up,” Lynette said.

The Rays said they believe their daughter is destined for greatness and Mike knows it will come sooner rather than later. “She is going to be a great musician because she works so hard and is a very strong person,” he said.

As for how Bri’s career was in 2020, she was booked out this past year more than any other year prior doing virtual concert after virtual concert. Bri said she’s excited for what is to come and has already released a new song this year tilted “Tough Love.”

While Bri said she is optimistic for her music career, she believes that her impact off the stage will be even bigger by using her voice and platform to advocate for changes in society.

She thinks the most important thing a musician can do is a lyric from her empowering song “Woman”: “Invest in your voice and know your choice.”