A Golden Age of Gay/Lesbian Country Music?

contributed by Dan Goldes

With new releases by Chely Wright, Ty Herndon, and newcomer Brandon Stansell, and with former child singer Billy Gilman featured on TV’s The Voice, it seems as though we may be entering a new era of acceptance for openly lesbian and gay country singers.

Wright, whose Sundance Saloon hits include “Jezebel” and “What If We Fly”, released I Am The Rain, her first album in five years, in September. Wright came out publicly – the first major country artist to do so – in 2010 with the publication of her memoir Like Me and the release the following year of the documentary film, Wish Me Away. She married Lauren Blitzer in 2011 and they welcomed twin sons in 2013.

Ty Herdon with Dan Goldes at Davis Pride, May 2016

Ty Herdon with Dan Goldes at Davis Pride, May 2016

I Am The Rain entered Billboard’s “Top Country Albums” at #13, marking Wright’s second highest debut on the overall Country tally. This video gives a behind-the-scenes look at the recording of the album, which includes a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”. Wright didn’t change the pronouns in the song, making it very clear she’s singing about a woman.

Ty Herndon’s new album, House on Fire, was released in early November. Known at Sundance for “Steam” and “You Can Leave Your Hat On”, Herndon came out in November, 2014, becoming the first major male country star to do so. (His coming out story inspired Billy Gilman, singer of Sundance’ Saloon’s “You Don’t, You Won’t”, to come out the same day.)

Herndon, who performed at several Pride events last summer, co-wrote many of the songs on the new album, including the title track. In it, he describes growing up in a religious environment but feeling ostracized by the church:

I still replay those words
Only 10 years old and hate is what I heard from that loving church
‘And there’s no salvation on that road you’re taking, and a boy like you ain’t worth saving’

Rolling Stone magazine noted “the songs on House on Fire are gender-free by design, allowing anyone to see their romantic ups and downs in the stories.”

Newcomer Brandon Stansell’s ballad, “Slow Down”, which features backing vocals by Herndon, is the title track from his current EP. The video leaves no doubt about Stansell’s gay identity, and he is dedicated to forging his career as openly gay from the beginning.

Of course, there have long been gay men and lesbians in the commercial country music scene – singer/songwriter Shane McAnally is known for his hit “Are Your Eyes Still Blue” and for writing hits for a dozen country stars, including “Mama’s Broken Heart” (Miranda Lambert), “Somewhere With You” (Kenny Chesney), and “Downtown” (Lady Antebellum) – and the current crop of music from openly gay singers provides fans a new chance to support these artists.

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