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The Upward thrust of Jelly Roll: How a Tattooed Ex-Con Discovered Nation Stardom

It is an not going good fortune tale, however it is the sort nation song loves to inform.

The identify Jelly Roll best was a family identify over the previous few years, however virtually someone can empathize along with his struggles. After a bothered youth and more than one incarcerations as a young person, the Tennessee local were given motivated to raised himself and keep on with his goals — and that led him to stardom.

On the 2023 CMT Tune Awards this yr, Jelly gained Male Video of the 12 months, Male Leap forward Video of the 12 months, and Virtual-First Efficiency of the 12 months, for his breakout tune, “Son of a Sinner.” At Wednesday’s 2023 CMA Awards, he used to be nominated 5 instances, scoring a win for New Artist of the 12 months. And he is a favourite for a number of nominations on the 2024 GRAMMY Awards, which shall be introduced on Friday.

“It used to be the nod of approval I prayed for,” Jelly Roll advised ET of his CMA nominations — that are voted on by means of his nation song friends. “I knew that we had been promoting tickets, I knew that lovers had been with us, I knew that we had people who had been getting moved by means of the song, however I wasn’t in point of fact certain what Nashville considered me, you understand?”

Jelly Roll takes home the award for best new artist
Scott Kirkland/Disney by the use of Getty Pictures

Here is a glance again on the winding street that led Jelly Roll from teenage antisocial to nation song big name.


Born Jason Bradley DeFord in Nashville in 1982, a tumultuous upbringing led Jelly Roll to an early lifetime of crime that landed him in prison sooner than he may even graduate highschool. He used to be first imprisoned at age 14, and welcomed his first kid whilst nonetheless at the back of bars.

“A guard knocks on my mobile door midafternoon all the way through lockdown,” Jelly recalled in an interview with Billboard previous this yr. “He is going, ‘You had a child lately.’ I have by no means had not anything in lifestyles that suggested me within the second to grasp that I needed to do one thing other. I’ve to determine this out at the moment.” 

The beginning of his daughter, Bailee, in 2008 compelled issues into viewpoint for the singer, who made up our minds to pursue his GED in an try to higher himself.

“I spent lower than 60 to 70 days in highschool. I believed I used to be an actual dumbass. I believed I used to be finding out disabled,” he stated, revealing that he handed his examination at the first take a look at. “I walked in there and smacked that b**ch out of the park.”

He first attempted his hand on the song industry in 2003, although he began out in hip-hop along with his first liberate, The Simple Shmear Tape. A string of collaborations, mixtapes and extra incarcerations adopted, till Jelly made the pivot to rock and nation song, in the long run touchdown himself at the Grand Previous Opry level in November 2021.

“I cried like a child in entrance of 12 strangers. I had simply signed my document deal, so I did not even in point of fact know my document label,” he recalled of the instant forward of his fourth efficiency in April 2023. “Nevertheless it used to be a part of the rationale I signed my document deal – I had two necessities in my deal. I used to be like ‘You gotta promise me you’ll be able to get me within the native newspaper, then you definitely gotta promise me you’ll get me to the Grand Ole Opry.’ I needed to a minimum of end up that I’m who I say I’m, although they by no means convey me again, that is high quality. However simply let me be the man who will get to do it.”


Jelly’s first primary label album, 2021’s Ballad of the Damaged, landed him on each the rock and nation charts, nevertheless it used to be one of the crucial album’s best in reality nation tracks, “Son of a Sinner,” that put him at the map. Launched as a unmarried in March 2022, the tune hit No. 1 on Billboard’s US Nation Airplay chart, and impressed the singer to transport even additional towards the rustic sound for his 2023 follow-up, Whitsitt Chapel.

Up to now, the album has spawned two hit singles at the nation charts, “Desire a Prefer” and “Save Me,” the latter of which options any other primary nation big name of the instant, Lainey Wilson.

And it is no wonder that the duo used to be probably the most nominated artists at this yr’s CMA Awards. Wilson used to be the end nominee of the night time, with 9 nods, whilst Jelly used to be the top-nominated male artist, with 5.

“Dude, I don’t believe I even aroused from sleep anticipating a nomination, so after they advised me I used to be the most-nominated male, I virtually pooped myself,” he joked to ET all the way through rehearsals for the display at Bridgestone Enviornment this week. 

In all seriousness, Jelly admitted that the popularity from nation song friends used to be a big second for him and his profession.

“It used to be the nod of approval I prayed for,” he shared. “I knew that we had been promoting tickets, I knew that lovers had been with us, I knew that we had people who had been getting moved by means of the song, however I wasn’t in point of fact certain what Nashville considered me, you understand?”

“It makes me wish to get emotional,” he added. “I am in point of fact getting teary-eyed. For me, it used to be in point of fact like, you understand, I am welcome right here and it used to be in point of fact cool.” 

However the adventure’s simply starting for Jelly — and he is already made some majorly well-known buddies alongside the way in which, like Dwayne Johnson!

“I am not making this up. The Rock used to be taking note of Jelly Roll song when Spotify numbers stated best 30,000 other folks had been taking note of Jelly Roll,” the musician advised ET again in June. “He is in point of fact been with me from the start. I do not proportion what that tale is, however he has a tale that the song used to be there for him at a second when he wanted it. And that used to be superior to listen to from him.”

“That is … seven, 8 years in the past even and we have stored in contact,” he persisted. “He used to be the primary particular person to congratulate me on my Grand Ole Opry debut; first particular person to congratulate [me], and after I performed on the Ryman [Auditorium]. The primary DM I were given after I introduced [the historic] Bridgestone [Arena show in 2022]. I imply, those pinnacles in my profession. He is all the time the primary particular person in my messages.”


Together with his skilled good fortune, the singer’s circle of relatives lifestyles is bettering as neatly. As of late, Jelly has complete custody of Bailee and is elevating her in conjunction with his spouse, Bunnie, whom he married in 2016. That is the identical yr that he welcomed his 2d kid, son Noah, with a former female friend. 

Calling Bunnie “a beacon of exchange in my lifestyles” in his Billboard interview, Jelly credited her with serving to him to achieve custody of Bailee. 

“You’re speaking a few lady that got here in and took a kid that used to be quickly to be born and a kid that [we were] quickly to have complete custody of,” he stated of his spouse, who’s a former intercourse employee and present podcast host. “I’d have by no means were given custody of my daughter with out her. I wouldn’t have had the steadiness or the cash.” 

Chatting with his new fortune, Jelly additionally published the unexpected first splurge he made after hitting it large financially: treatment for each himself and his daughter.

“Her father used to be in prison when she used to be born. Her mom ended up addicted to heroin and disappeared,” he persisted. “I am staring at the cycle nonetheless proceed. That’s one more reason it’s really easy to attract inspiration from my songs: I’m nonetheless staring at it in actual time.”


As he continues to paintings on himself, there may be a variety of other folks within the song trade that wish to paintings with him. He used to be achieving out to Put up Malone and Zach Bryan on the 2023 CMA Awards this week, and stated his inclusion and popularity on the awards display proved how the doorways to the rustic song scene are extra open than ever.

“Nation song is on fireplace,” Jelly Roll gushed to ET forward of the awards display. “The spectrum of nation song and the web of nation song is wider than it is ever been. Extra persons are making a song it and making a song it other than they ever sang it. Extra persons are staring at it than have ever watched it. Nation song is the brand new pop.” 

Even after profitable New Artist of the 12 months, alternatively, Jelly used to be nonetheless suffering to imagine the respect his friends had bestowed him.

“I did not assume I had an opportunity, guy,” he advised ET behind the scenes after the win — and his viral acceptance speech. “It used to be wasn’t even in my thoughts, to be fair.”



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