OFFSTAGE: Billy Ray Cyrus Is Breathing Sigh of Relief

(CMT Offstage keeps a 24/7 watch on everything that’s happening with country music artists behind the scenes and out of the spotlight.)

Billy Ray Cyrus doesn’t have it. And by “it,” I mean chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He took the quick five-question screener online and found out he’s in good shape. “I didn’t have a perfect score, but I passed,” he told me. His grandfather had the symptoms of COPD back when Cyrus was a kid. “I saw him struggle to breathe. It makes you feel helpless,” he said. “And the more I learn about the disease, I realize how many people in my part of Appalachia had trouble like this. Breathing is just such an intricate part of living.” That’s why Cyrus is part of this Tune Up for COPD songwriting contest. He’s had plenty of his own hit songs, and now he wants to hear yours. And even more than that, what he wants is for your song to tell the world about this disease. “Was it Elvis who said, ’Nothing is more powerful than a great song’? That’s why I’m involved in this. I think songwriters should just follow the advice Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings gave me: Keep it real. Start with something from your heart. Get inspiration from life,” Cyrus said. Once all the song entries are submitted Friday (April 15), fans will have a chance to vote for their own favorites through April 29. Then the winner will be chosen by Cyrus, Patty Loveless and country music and COPD experts. The ultimate prize? A trip to Nashville, where Cyrus will introduce the winner and sing his or her song to a crowd at the Riverfront Stage at the CMA Music Festival in June.

Alison makes her living loving country music. She's based in Chicago, but she's always leaving her heart in Nashville.