Country-music stars step into a new era of frank talk in a series of AIDS-awareness advertisements that address sex education, condoms and other ways to protect against the deadly AIDS virus.
Mary-Chapin Carpenter and Mark Chesnutt are co-chairs of the Country Music AIDS Awareness Campaign and are two of some 35 stars who will appear in print, radio and television ads set to debut Jan. 13.
The broadcast ads are slick, using MTV-style fast edits as star after star read lines such as:
* “Sex without condoms puts you at risk for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.”
* “Use a latex condom every time you have sex.”
Some of the stars who can be seen and heard in the campaign, called “Break the Silence,” include Clint Black, Tammy Wynette, Wynonna Judd, George Jones, Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and the Kentucky Headhunters.
“AIDS Ain’t Just Some Big City Problem,” trumpets one print ad with Chesnutt’s picture.
Chesnutt, the Country Music Assn.'s 1993 Horizon Award winner with such hits as “It Sure Is Monday,” initiated the campaign. He got involved after reading that AIDS was spreading twice as fast in rural as in urban areas.
“I know lots of people outside urban areas who think that AIDS is strictly a big-city problem or one that doesn’t affect them directly,” Chesnutt said. “But it’s affecting rural areas all over the country and these are places that country music can speak to directly.”
Singer Kathy Mattea is generally credited with being the first major country star to speak out about AIDS, years after arts communities in New York and Los Angeles.
Mattea wore a red ribbon at the Country Music Assn.'s awards show in the fall of 1992. The CMA had opted to distribute green ribbons for environmental awareness to participants in the national network television broadcast. Stars on most other awards shows had taken to wearing red ribbons to show support for AIDS sufferers.
Mattea’s voice cracked as she spoke about losing three friends to the disease. She was defying CMA officials, who had denied her permission to explain why she was wearing the red ribbon.
Carpenter doesn’t see the point of bickering over who started helping and when.
“I certainly don’t think country music is one of the last to acknowledge it,” Carpenter said in a telephone interview.
“Corporate America has really not done a lot. But I think that’s also besides the point. The point is to do as much as we can without bickering over who’s been there at the forefront.”
The campaign was designed by advertising executives in Nashville, led by Bill Johnson, design director of Sony Music. The goal is to reach about 50 million people with messages about safe sex and AIDS education.
The broadcast commercials will be distributed to the broadcast and cable networks. Rolling Stone, Country America and Billboard magazines all have committed to running the print ads.
Another show of support from country stars came on a concert at the Grand Ole Opry House on World AIDS Day on Dec. 1.
Billy Ray Cyrus and K.T. Oslin headlined more than 20 artists at the concert. Some country stars also are participating in the national CareBonds program, in which autographed photos are exchanged for donations.
Mattea is the springboard behind another project sure to attract a lot of notice, the country version of the “Red Hot” series.
The AIDS awareness series puts multi-artist theme albums that benefit AIDS research. “Red Hot + Blue” had rock artists do Cole Porter tunes. There also has been a “Red Hot + Dance” compilation.
The “Red Hot + Country” record, set for a March, 1994, release, will feature songs from Mattea, Carpenter and others.
“The main thing is speaking very candidly and very directly about ways to prevent infection,” Carpenter said.