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.
The singer-songwriter, who came out in 2014, wants fans to hear “What Mattered Most” the way he wishes he could’ve recorded it originally.
Country singer-songwriter Ty Herndon is kicking off LGBTQ Pride Month by giving one of his most beloved hits a fresh, forward-thinking shine.
HuffPost got an exclusive first look at the music video for “What Mattered Most,” viewed above. The new version boasts a contemporary arrangement of the haunting melody introduced in Herndon’s original. This time, however, he’s replaced all of the female pronouns with their male equivalent, in an effort to reflect his life as a gay man.
The Alabama-raised artist, 57, told HuffPost he wanted to show LGBTQ youth that “Nashville and the country community have come a long way” by revamping the ballad, which hit No. 1 on Billboard’s country songs chart in February 1995.
“I can’t tell you how many times I hear them say, ‘We want to like country music ― we just don’t think it likes us,’” he said. “I was diffidently looking for a way to celebrate the song’s birthday. So this seemed like the perfect idea.”
For fans, the new version of “What Mattered Most” is the first taste of Herndon’s forthcoming album, “Got It Covered.” Slated for an Aug. 23 release, the album is the singer-songwriter’s first since 2016’s “House On Fire,” and his second since publicly opening up about his sexuality in 2014.
Though Herndon acknowledges that “there is still a lot of truth” to the perception of country music as traditionally conservative, his influence can be felt across a growing number of performers and personalities within the genre. In 2017, Country Music Television (CMT) personality Cody Alan came out as gay on his social media channels, telling fans he felt “happier and healthier than I’ve ever been.”
Last fall, singer-songwriter Brandon Stansell (with whom Herndon has performed in the past) recalled his own coming out experience in the video for “Hometown,” the first of his singles to receive CMT airplay. And in March, independent artist Cameron Hawthorn scored a viral hit with the video for his song, “Dancing in the Living Room,” in which he canoodled lovingly with a boyfriend.
Calling himself “somewhat of a counselor to the community,” Herndon credits stars like Kacey Musgraves and Maren Morris, as well as legends like Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire ― all of whom court sizable LGBTQ fan bases ― with “helping to change things pretty rapidly.”
As for the new version of “What Mattered Most,” he hopes it will appeal to both fans who have been following his work since the original as well as new audiences who may not have heard the song before. The song will be a part of his set Thursday when he takes the stage at Nashville’s Wildhorse Saloon for the Concert for Love and Acceptance, an annual event he’s co-hosted with GLAAD since 2015.
Whether listeners approach the song as a newbie or with knowledge of the 25-year journey that inspired the redux, Herndon is just happy it will now be heard “with the emotion and story that I intended.”
Best Inclusivity: Concert for Love and Acceptance
Out country star Ty Herndon and openly gay CMT host Cody Alan presided over the GLAAD-sponsored Love & Acceptance Concert at the Wildhorse Saloon, now in its third year. Yet, while the event had its share of LGBT representation – including British pop-soul singer Calum Scott, country-blues belter Shelly Fairchild and country newcomers Brandon Stansell and Parson James – there were also profound messages of solidarity and inclusiveness in performances from Cam, Thompson Square, Cale Dodds, Cassadee Pope and Michael Ray, as well as country veterans Tanya Tucker, Terri Clark and Billy Dean. As surprise guest Vince Gill – a country-music statesman if ever there was one – told the crowd, “As a young child I heard the words that we were all created equal. I believed that as a little boy and I believe that as a grown man.” S.B.
Best Welcome Presence: GLAAD
There are always plenty of non-profit organizations with footprints at CMA Fest, but seeing such a widespread presence from GLAAD was especially heartening, particularly at the beginning of Pride Month. GLAAD, which stands for Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, had volunteers offering information, registering voters, and collecting donations throughout the festival grounds, with strong support from social media. The organization’s third Concert for Love and Acceptance, put on in conjunction with Ty Herndon and held at Wildhorse Saloon, was a sold-out event and featured a surprise appearance from Vince Gill. B.M.
Love filled the room Thursday (June 7) at GLAAD and Ty Herndon’s Concert for Love & Acceptance.
CMT’s Cody Alan hosted the event, which saw performances by Ty, Tanya Tucker, Terri Clark, Billy Dean, Michael Ray, Cam, Cale Dodds and Britain’s Got Talent 2015 contestant Calum Scott at Nashville’s Wildhorse Saloon.
Vince Gill also surprised the sold-out crowd and revealed why it was important for him to attend.
“As a young child I always heard the words that we are all created equal,” Vince said. “I believed that as a little boy and I believe that as a grown man.”
Also on the lineup were Anita Cochran, Temecula Road, Thompson Square, Shelly Fairchild, Cassadee Pope, Brandon Stansell, newcomer Parson James and WWE Superstars Lana and Sonya.
During the concert, GLAAD announced a $2500 grant for young LGBTQ musicians called the Ty Herndon Rising Stars Grant, which is eligible to LGBTQ young people who are working to accelerate acceptance in the music industry.
Partners at the 2018 Concert for Love Acceptance included CMT, Ketel One Vodka, Nissan Mary Frances Rudy from Rudy Title & Escrow and Wade Weissmann Architecture.
Award-winning artist Ty Herndon was recently invited to perform at the 2018 White House Correspondents’ Dinner where he sang an exceptional rendition of “America The Beautiful” and “God Bless America.”
The event, hosted by the White House Correspondents’ Association (WHCA), featured comedian Michelle Wolf (Comedy Central’s Daily Show With Trevor Noah) on the entertainment line-up.
The Association, founded in 1914 to represent the White House press corps, works to maintain independent news media coverage of the president, advocating for access, handling logistics for pools of reporters who stay close to the president and those who travel with him and providing scholarships to journalism students.
The annual dinner has been attended by U.S. Presidents and First Ladies for decades as well as many other senior government officials and members of the press corps. Proceeds from the dinner support the association’s year-round work as well as scholarships for aspiring journalists and awards recognizing excellence in the journalism profession.
The WHCA represents the White House press corps in its dealings with the administration and advocates for journalists’ ability to see and report on the president and his staff. Herndon attended the event with the intention of raising awareness for the “Beyond I Do” campaign which is working to bring attention to the discrimination of the LGBTQ community in the U.S. This campaign is raising awareness of this discrimination by giving real Americans a platform to tell their stories of being fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes, or denied basic services because of their sexual identity.
About Ty Herndon: Ty Herndon’s career has produced more than four million in album sales, a Grammy nomination, Dove Award and multiple No. 1 singles on the Country charts, including “What Mattered Most,” “Living in a Moment” and “It Must Be Love.” Among his nine studio albums and 17-charted singles are the Top 10 hits, “I Want My Goodbye Back,” “Loved Too Much,” “A Man Holding On (To a Woman Letting Go)” and “Hands of a Working Man.” Most recently, Herndon debuted his most ambitious album to date, titled House on Fire. He made history when he hosted the first-of-its-kind country music event, The Concert For Love and Acceptance. The event, designed to bring attention and support to at-risk youth, has received national attention from Boston Globe, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Tonight, and more.