Ty Herndon, “What Mattered Most”
An updated version of a 24-year-old song, Ty Herndon’s reimagined “What Matters Most” changes the pronouns from the singer’s career-launching 1995 hit. The result is an open-minded ballad that makes no attempt to hide Herndon’s sexual orientation. “His eyes are blue, his hair is long,” sings the crooner, who came out publicly in 2014.
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Tim McGraw, Daughtry, Rita Wilson, Mickey Guyton and more demonstrated their passion for the LGBTQ community at the 5th annual Ty Herndon Concert For Love and Acceptance at the Wildhorse Saloon in Nashville on Thursday (June 6).
Each artist that participates finds meaning in the cause. For Guyton, it stands for action. As a second time participant, Guyton shared how she feels a kinship with the LGBTQ community, calling the conversation surrounding the event “so important.” “Being an African American woman in country music, I know what it’s like to be different. I know what it’s like to not feel accepted and that’s why I’m here, to show solidarity and show everyone that I’m with you and I love you and I see you,” she expressed to Sounds Like Nashville on the red carpet.
Country music has a long history regarding lack of LGBTQ representation. While artists like Kacey Musgraves, Dolly Parton, Carrie Underwood and more have been vocal about their support for inclusion, Guyton admits that “a lot of work” needs to done to better incorporate the LGBTQ community into the genre. “I’d be lying if I said that everything is perfect, it’s not. But in order for change to happen there has to be action from across the board…and throwing an event like this is making this a normal thing,” she says.
Billy Gilman echoes this sentiment, adding that country music has a “long way to go” when it comes to LGBTQ inclusion, believing that fans would embrace LGBTQ artists on the radio. “I think the audiences aren’t as abrasive as the men writing the documents,” he observes. “I think if they would let their guard down and try to infiltrate a little of an LGBT artist on radio, I think you’d be surprised at the lack of clapback.”
Gilman came out as gay in 2014 and has made it his mission to be a voice for those who feel suppressed. He’s met and received letters from people who share their stories of abuse and homelessness as a result of coming out. The singer says the Concert For Love and Acceptance gives a voice to those living in remote areas who aren’t always embraced with acceptance. “We need more love, and by coming here, it fuels us all to go out for the rest of the year and push through to all our kids and adults,” he says, describing the event’s mission as “creating a better world.” “Hopefully one day, we realize that we don’t need a Love and Acceptance concert, it’s all equal now. I only pray for that day.”
For Rita Wilson, the event symbolizes support. Wilson had heard about Herndon, whom she calls an “incredible artist,” and the event through a mutual friend and songwriting partner. Wilson has been an advocate for the LGBTQ community through her work with Aid for AIDS, a nonprofit that provides education and access to treatment for individuals who have HIV. “I think in my world of supporting AIDs research and finding a cure for AIDs, that’s been a big part of our involvement in the LGBTQ community. Also, I just feel like we have to do more work and accepting and just realizing that it’s not a choice…You were born that way,” she relates. “I’m a Christian and I still believe that.”
The concert also shone a spotlight on emerging artists Zolita and Jada Cato, the recipients of GLAAD’s Rising Stars Grants. Zolita is a singer-songwriter who’s music and videos highlight femme-on-femme lesbian representation, while Cato is a Birmingham-based singer and theatre actress. Growing up in Alabama, Cato was a fan of 90s country music, introduced to the Dixie Chicks and Shania Twain through her sisters. She says it’s a “dream come true” to be a involved in an event that celebrates people she didn’t see represented in country music during her youth.
“When I was 14 waking up every day for high school watching CMT, I would never even dare to see a queer person or hear a queer person, or really even a person of color for that matter, and barely any women. So, it’s been nice to see the progression and be able to be a part of that because it’s hard to go against the grain and do something different but ultimately it’s worth it. It doesn’t really serve you to change your art in a way that isn’t authentic to you,” Cato explains. “I’m so grateful to be a part of something like this, in hopes that someone that is growing up watching CMT now knows that the door’s been opened.”
Similarly, Brandon Stansell grew up in a southern town where he didn’t see himself represented in the genre he admired. A native of Chattanooga, Tenn., Stansell has since moved to Los Angeles to launch his country music career, releasing such songs as “Hometown” that capture the feeling of isolation, but also appreciation for the rural town he was raised in, along with a cover of Musgraves’ “Space Cowboy.” “I’ve loved country music my whole life, but I’ve never seen myself reflected in it. So I think it’s really important that queer people, just like straight people, have the opportunities to write about their experiences in an honest way and be able to put those out and have people hear them,” Stansell shares.
He cites the Concert For Love and Acceptance as an agent of change that provides a platform to tell these stories, uniting LGBTQ artists with their allies in country music. “It’s that one night where we get to shine the big spotlight on the LGBTQ community in a space where not many people see us or know that we even exist, so this is kind of the start of it,” he says. “This is that thing that changes everything.”
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Singer-songwriter and activist makes her first appearance at growing and diverse annual event hosted by Ty Herndon.
Singer-songwriter and activist Chely Wright made her first appearance at the Concert for Love and Acceptance on Thursday night, performing a pair of her hits as the event celebrated its fifth year.
One of those was “Shut Up and Drive,” a 1997 hit for Wright that got a huge cheer from the crowd. Leaving the original pronouns intact, Wright gave a soulful, emotive performance of the tune, which was written by Rivers Rutherford, Sam Tate and Annie Tate and included on Wright’s album Let Me In.
But Wright’s presence at the event was significant for a second reason. Host Ty Herndon, who helped organize the event with GLAAD a few years ago, remarked on how Wright had smashed through all the barriers when she came out of the closet nine years ago. Herndon, who recently re-recorded his song “What Mattered Most” with pronouns updated to reflect his experiences as a gay man, referred to Wright as a “coach” when he made the decision to publicly come out.
So it was a full-circle moment for the event, which has offered an affirming and inclusive environment in the middle of downtown Nashville during CMA Fest for the past five years. People visiting Nashville for the weekend (and the Fest) even attend this event specifically, enjoying the music alongside members of Nashville’s LGBTQ community.
Wright’s appearance at the Concert for Love and Acceptance is also indicative of its growth and diversification over that five-year stretch. This year’s lineup included Billy Gillman, Brandon Stansell, Daughtry, Harper Grae, Lee Brice, Mickey Guyton, Tayla Lynn, Tyler Rich, Brody Ray and a surprise appearance by Gavin DeGraw. Men and women, Queer performers and allies, established and rising performers, all present to offer support — it’s a small glimpse of the diversity of country fans, along with the potential it has to be a welcoming place for all.
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Country singer, gay rights activist and philanthropist Ty Herndon re-cut earlier hits for forthcoming album Got It Covered, as evidenced by his new music video for “What Mattered Most.”
The 2019 version of Herndon’s chart-topping mainstream arrival from 1995 honors Pride Month by swapping female pronouns for male ones. The singer came out of the closet on Nov. 20, 2014, making him the first openly gay man in mainstream country. Another former OpryLand employee turned ’90s hit-maker, Chely Wright, led the charge by sharing her truth through her 2010 autobiography Like Me: Confessions of a Heartland Country Singer. In the music video, Wright and other friends watch on as Herndon pours his all into a re-recording that reflects his truth.
Shortly after coming out of the closet, Herndon partnered with GLAAD to debut The Concert for Love and Acceptance. The annual event, held tonight (June 6) at Nashville’s Wildhorse Saloon, supports at-risk youth.
Another way Herndon makes a difference is through GLAAD’s Ty Herndon Rising Stars Grant, which rewards $2,500 to young people committed to LGBTQ inclusion and representation through music. In addition, Herndon donates his time to such worthy organizations as the Trevor Project, Make A Wish, St. Jude, GLAAD, HRC and Feed the Children.
Got It Covered, a collection of re-recordings from Herndon’s career and covers of his favorite songs, arrives Aug. 23 through BFE/The Orchard.
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A country music star is re-releasing a song updated with male pronouns to honor his identity as a gay man during Pride Month, NPR reports.
Country music singer Ty Herndon released the hit love song “What Mattered Most” in 1995. On the track, Herndon sings lyrics like “If she was sad, I couldn’t tell” and “I thought I knew the girl so well.” In the new release, Herndon swapped the female pronouns for male ones, singing “”His eyes are blue / His hair is long.”
Herndon, who came out as gay in 2014, said the new version is more reflective of his life and personal experiences. He said he used to perform the original song thinking of his mother and father’s “great love story,” according to NPR.
“I’ve sat down and listened to both of them carefully, and I can tell you: There was the kid singing the other song,” Herndon said. “There was the grown-up man that was a lot more emotional and living in his authentic skin singing this song.”
“That’s how I made it a living, breathing thing for me when I would perform it,” Herndon continued. “But at the time, I was also in a relationship with a beautiful boy. His hair was long and his eyes were blue. So, I did think about him quite a bit.”
Herndon said he feared that his sexuality would mean having to leave country music, but said he was surprised by the support from friends and family in Nashville.
“I was really prepared to walk away from it all, but I didn’t have to do that,” Herndon told NPR.
He added that this re-release is part of the responsibility he feels to show LGBT youth that they “don’t have to be afraid.”
“It starts with me,” he said. “It starts with artists that have been there.”
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After coming out as gay in 2014, country singer Ty Herndon is re-releasing his 1995 hit song “What Mattered Most”
It’s been 25 years since Ty Herndon released the song “What Mattered Most” about losing the love of his life — a blue-eyed girl from Baton Rouge. At the time, the country star was in a loving (but closeted) relationship with a man.
The 57-year-old, who came out as gay in an exclusive interview with PEOPLE in 2014, is in a much different place these days. On Tuesday, Herndon is re-releasing the hit single that launched his country music career. This time, the alternative version (premiering below with a new music video) features lyrics that accurately reflect who he is on the inside. It also marks the first single off his new album, Got It Covered, dropping Aug. 23.
“In the [original] I say the word “she” or “her” something like 36 times,” Herndon tells PEOPLE exclusively. “I’m doing this song 25 years later the way I wish I could’ve recorded it back then.”
The Nashville-based artist says he was a bit apprehensive about revisiting the now-classic song (which topped country charts in 1995) — if it’s not broke, don’t fix it, right? But after years of counseling LGBTQ youth, Herndon knows there are kids who desperately need to hear their sexuality represented in a country song.
“So many of them say, ‘We want to like country music but we’re afraid to like it because we feel like country music doesn’t like us,’” Herndon says. “I wanted to do something to show these kids that country is changing and that Nashville is a safe place for them.”
The “Living in a Moment” singer says he was full of mixed emotions while filming the new music video. “I kind of shoot from the hip and I write from where I’m at in my life. But this isn’t today,” he says. “This is going back 25 years. A lot of my story started with this song. We kept having to stop filming because I would get so emotional. I was having a day of reflection and celebration. There is some heartbreak in it but there’s also a lot of joy in the fact that I’m able to give that song new life for something way bigger than myself.”
Herndon feels at peace with whatever response may come from the re-release. As the first male country singer to come out as gay, he says he’s developed a thick skin when it comes to the public’s opinion.
In addition, Nashville isn’t the restricted scene it once was. Herndon says the country music genre is making great strides towards acceptance. The latest star to come out of Nashville, Kacey Musgraves, proved this when she won several CMA awards for her record “Follow Your Arrow,” which supports the LGBTQ community.
Still, there’s work to be done and Herndon knows he’s “in the middle of a tug of war with the community about LGBT issues.”
“I really hope that a 14-year-old kid who looks just like me, sitting in front of his TV watching the CMT Awards or the CMA Awards, who wants to come to Nashville but is scared to death, sees this video,” he says. “I know I can drive 50 miles south and there are kids on the street who are trying to work their way to Nashville because they’ve been kicked out of their homes and churches.”
Herndon adds, “I’m in the business of saving lives. I can say that because I certainly almost took mine a few times.”
In a 2017 episode of Oprah: Where Are They Now? the singer opened up about his troubled past, including multiple divorces and drug and alcohol dependency.
“I look back on everything now, and the drugs, I consider them to have been my medicine,” Herndon said in the OWN special. “At the time, it was the only thing that would numb me out, that I wouldn’t have to feel the hell that I was feeling in my spirit. The bottom for me, during that time, was not wanting to live anymore. I’d lost my faith. Every relationship I touched crumbled.”
In the early 2000s, Herndon divorced his second wife and began to spiral before finally entering rehab for the second time. Today, he’s sober and happy with longtime partner Matthew Collum.
“Matt and I just celebrated our ninth anniversary,” Herndon says. “I told my agent, ‘When you stop booking me for so many shows a year, maybe I’ll have time to get married!’ It’s definitely going to happen.”
In addition to releasing his song, Herndon will present and co-host the Concert for Love and Acceptance with CMT’s Cody Alan in partnership with GLAAD on Thursday evening in Nashville.
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