Jelly Roll Says He’ll Never Stop Working for Tennessee’s At-Risk Youth: ‘That’s My Real Heart’
In late 2022, Jelly Roll — who was still a relatively new artist at the time — made headlines when he donated $250,000 to support youth incarcerated at Nashville's Davidson County Detention Center, a facility where the singer himself spent time as a teen.
Using proceeds from his sold-out hometown show at Bridgestone Arena, Jelly financed the construction of a recording studio at the detention center, providing resources for youth who — like him — find an outlet in music.
In a new interview with the New York Times, the singer says that that experience won't be a one-off.
"That's not even scratching the surface of my plan," he explains. "I'm going to build halfway houses and transitional centers — that's my real heart."
In both music and conversation, Jelly often speaks of his formative early years in Nashville, dealing with poverty, addiction and incarceration. In his acceptance speeches during his 2023 CMT Music Awards sweep, he became visibly emotional, using his time onstage to send a message of support to anyone going through similar struggles.
"I just never forget being that kid," he reflects. "Those years in juvenile were so formative, and it was so devastating for me to miss that time. On my 16th birthday, I didn't get a car; I woke up incarcerated. I didn't get my G.E.D. until I was 23 and in jail. I just missed so much of my life. So I want to be remembered as the guy that did something for the kids in this town."
Elsewhere in his New York Times interview, Jelly shares some details about his long-awaited upcoming debut country album, Whitsitt Chapel. That project will feature some all-star co-writes, with big names like Miranda Lambert and Hardy lending their songwriting skills to the project. Included on the track list is a recut version of Jelly's hit 2020 song, "Save Me," which he re-cast as a duet with Lainey Wilson.
Over the process of creating the album — during which time, Jelly says, he wrote more than 80 songs — a theme of spirituality emerged, he continues.
"Everything was great, but it didn't feel like it had a purpose," the singer explains. "I'm always diligent about the 'why,' 'What's the purpose?' And if it's just that it's catchy or easy to monetize, we don't put that out."
Whitsitt Chapel is due to arrive June 2.