Singer Ty Herndon describes his career as a series of “valleys and peaks, some valleys I almost didn’t get out of.” Herndon, 54, burst onto the country music scene in 1995 with a number one single, “What Mattered Most.” The Mississippi native would chart two more top singles before his career hit the skids.
Always a fighter, he never gave up, penning a successful contemporary Christian album in 2010 before landing a Grammy Award nomination that year for his album, “Journey On.” In November 2014, Herndon came out in a People magazine cover story.
Being an openly gay country singer has not been easy, but Herndon has not shied away from embracing the community and especially LGBTQ youth. He recently released “Fighter,’ a music video devoted to bullying in cooperation with the Trevor Project. He has performed on gay cruises and at Pride festivals and, on Sunday, will be a featured entertainer at Pride Fort Lauderdale.
SFGN spoke with Herndon about his career and the challenges—and inspirations—that come with being a gay country artist:
Are you excited to be performing at Pride Fort Lauderdale?
I’m really looking forward to being at the show. My dad is from Panama City and I think I’m kin to just about everybody in Florida. Any time we play in Florida, here they come.
What have you got planned for the Pride audience?
I’m excited to be working on six super cool dance mixes. People love country music and I’m translating that into dance music for Pride festivals. A ballad sends people off to find another beer.
How has coming out changed your career?
Two years ago, I was prepared to walk away from country music. There have been some valleys and peaks, some valleys I almost didn’t get out of…I wanted to be happy in my skin and live my life not in any type of shadows. I’ve been blown away with the love and acceptance in the industry, (even if) there are trolls who hide behind the cowardice of the keyboard. I still play regular fairs, festivals, casinos, theaters. My audience has become a very ‘Modern Family,’ a blend of affirming and awesome country lovers and the amazing LGBT family. A lot of people come to see me now that might not love country music…it feeds my spirit, in the climate we’re in today, to see everybody come together in love.
How do you respond to the conservative culture of country music?
It’s really a curse and a blessing. In country music, we’re such a faith-filled industry, but throwing the ‘LGBT’ word in there, it’s amazing how the most faith-filled people will close the door. I’m not going to bust it down, but I’m going to open it and walk right in there where you are. I stand for the same values, but I’m a gay man and you’re not allowed to take that away from me. People use faith as a weapon. One of my main goals is to let that 15-year-old know that they’re made perfectly in the eyes of God and should have a successful life. I have answered every hateful email, every hateful text, every hateful Facebook post. I’m still working on it, it was important to me that if you hand out hate, you’ll get love back from me.
Do you consider yourself spiritual or particularly religious?
I’m a very spiritual man. I meditate and try to stay centered. I just remember that God’s got this – God, Buddha, the universe, whatever your heart is for a higher spiritual being.
Pride Fort Lauderdale will be the first since the inauguration of President Trump and anti-LGBTQ forces are beginning to rally to roll back our advances. Are you concerned?
I have to believe there will be goodness. Am I afraid? Yes. Am I political? I don’t consider myself especially political, but I have to do what I have to do. As long as I have a voice with my music, that works better for me…I hope I’m lifting people up.
Your recent video, “Fighter” for the Trevor Project, addresses bullying. What inspired you to confront this issue?
There are a lot of teenagers who haven’t known any of this. They’ve had eight years of ‘normal’ and now they’re finding out that there’s something to be afraid of. My fear is we’ll see suicide rates go up. We have to remain calm, the best we can, and be educated about the truth, number one. As long as we surround ourselves with the truth, we can fight (back).
You mentioned that meditation keeps you centered spiritually. What’s your secret to looking great in your fifties?
I told my mom the rubber band is gonna break any day and it’s all gonna come falling down. I really try to take care of myself, eat right and exercise. I also have a partner in my life who does the same thing, the support system. We’re really conscious of being healthy, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have a cheeseburger yesterday. Cheeseburgers make us happy. I ran eight miles this morning, that’s also my meditation. If you hate exercising, find something that keeps you centered. That’s my time.
Any last words?
I invite everybody to come out and let’s all do love and conquer hate….and dance.
Ty Herndon will perform at 4 p.m. Sun. Feb. 26, at Pride Fort Lauderdale, Fort Lauderdale Beach Park, 1100 Seabreeze Blvd. Admission is free. For more information, go to PrideFortLauderdale.org.