Dolly Parton’s Music Manager Made Leah Shafer’s Dream Come True – ‘I Thought My Career Was Over’ [Exclusive]

Falling in love with Captain Sandy Yawn from Below Deck Mediterranean made a seismic change in singer Leah Shafer’s life. And, in a way, that love led her to Dolly Parton.

As a married mother who sang gospel, falling in love with a woman had massive repercussions. The church immediately shunned her, which also impacted her career as a popular gospel singer. Shafer divorced her husband and has been Yawn’s partner for three years.

“I thought my music career honestly was over,” she recalled to Showbiz Cheat Sheet. “That’s the truth. Because of gospel. Like I was done. They shipped my music back to my doorstep, took all my music off the radio. They canceled all my conferences. Like it was done and it was depressing and I was grieving.”

Leah Shafer was grieving the career she lost because of love

Shafer retained her job as the Denver Bronco’s “lucky charm” who sang the National Anthem before games – which they often won. Shafer also recorded a few songs, moving more into the country music space. But trying to regain her footing as a singer was overwhelming.

Dolly Parton performs at SXSW and stands onstage with a microphone. Leah Shafer and Captain Sandy Yawn appeared at an event and smile on step and repeat.
Dolly Parton, Leah Shafer, and Captain Sandy Yawn | Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for SXSW/ Photo courtesy of Leah Shafer

“I told Sandy, that’s like someone telling her she can never drive a boat again, that you worked so hard for,” she said. Yawn has been a superyacht captain for 30 years and currently stars on Below Deck Med. “So I was grieving. I was new to the LGBTQ community. I went through a divorce … single mom. It was just a lot. My dad died … like all of this, starting a business.” Shafer’s father contracted coronavirus (Covid-19) early in the pandemic and died. Shafer also owns Hydralounge, a skin, IV hydration, and vitamin supplementation business.

But then Dolly Parton’s music manager heard her sing …

Shafer and Yawn also embarked upon public speaking tours where Yawn would talk and Shafer would sing. The duo also took any opportunity to get involved in fundraising and charity events.

“And so when this whole breast cancer event came up to raise money in Nashville at the Country Music Awards Theater, it was Dolly Parton’s music manager, and [Parton] was also performing,” Shafer said. Yawn and Shafer participated in Nashville’s Kiss Breast Cancer Goodbye benefit concert in Oct. Parton headlined the event and sang her song “Pink.” 

Leah Shafer
Leah Shafer | Photo courtesy of Leah Shafer

Shafer and several other artists also sang. “So really, I kind of opened for Dolly,” she joked. “I started singing the song ‘This Is Me,’ but I redid did it to my own version.” That’s when Parton’s music manager, Kent Wells approached Shafer. “He came up to me. He goes, ‘Where have you been?’ And I’m like, ‘Well … [laughs] you know, in churches.'”

Just being recognized by Parton’s music manager was enthralling. “So it just validated it again,” Shafer recalled of her determination to rebuild her career as a singer.

Recording with Dolly’s manager could be just the beginning for Leah Shafer

“Sandy and I are doing a concert on December 21st in Miami, ‘Christmas with Love’ to raise money for the Captain Sandy Charity, and Kent and his band are going to play for us,” she said. “So I said let’s record. I went to Nashville and I recorded two songs.”

Leah Shafer
Leah Shafer | Photo courtesy of Leah Shafer

During the recording sessions, Parton called Wells a few times to share some ideas. “In the middle of my recording session, Dolly Parton called!” Shafer exclaimed. “Like three times!”

Shafer has yet to have a full conversation with Parton, but she met her at the Kiss Breast Cancer Goodbye event. “We didn’t get to hang because of Covid,” Shafer recalled. “But it was crazy to be in the same recording studio that she makes music and it was cool, you know? And I’m not in it to make it in music anymore. I just want to make a difference. Whether it’s through my storytelling or the podcast that Sandy and I are going to be doing soon.”

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RELATED: ‘Below Deck’: Captain Sandy’s Girlfriend Leah Shafer Will Perform at the Dolly Parton Breast Cancer Event – ‘It’s a Dream Come True’ (Exclusive)