Ty Herndon is something of a trailblazer. The singer/songwriter was the first major male country artist to publicly come as gay and has since proven that being out and successful in country music is achievable.
With a career spanning two decades, 20 Billboard charted singles, and over five million albums sold, Herndon has not only proven his worth but also that he isn’t slowing down. The 56-year-old is working on 2 album projects, was recently honored by the Human Rights Campaign, and will be hosting the fourth annual Concert for Love and Acceptance on June 7th.
The Concert for Love and Acceptance is the first-of-its-kind country music event designed to bring attention and support to at-risk youth. Since its inception, the concert has received national attention from media outlets like Rolling Stone, Entertainment Tonight, and People Magazine.
This year the concert is slated to be the best yet with artists such as Terri Clark, Michael Ray, Cassadee Pope, Calum Scott, and many more set to perform. Just today it was announced that Tanya Tucker is also set to sing.
I spoke with Ty about the upcoming concert, his music, and his life today. He even talked to me about his experience being picketed by the Westboro Baptist Church (Spoiler Alert: They aren’t fans of his).
I want to start by congratulating you for your recent honor with receiving the 2018 HRC Visibility Award. Talk to me about what that meant to you.
When i came out, my whole focus was on changing hearts and minds. To have known there was someone out there like me when I was growing up would have made such a difference. So to just be out there living authentically and to get rewarded for that was a little strange, but at the same time, I know that what I am doing for a living is helping people and changing lives.
Do you think that there is still a feeling that you can’t be successful in country music as a member of the LGBT community?
I do. We still have a large majority of our core audience who are faith based, and I think that’s why I confuse people. I am very much a gay Christian man. I have almost become immune to the word Christian because it can be a harsh word, so I just like to say I am an out man of faith.
I have so many different types of people that come to my show. I just had a 75-year-old man come to my show that told me he just came out to his family, even though he and his partner had been together for 50 years. He told me no matter what, he always hung very close to his faith.
The stereotype of you can’t be gay and be successful in country music is slowly going away. There are people out there like Maren Morris and Michael Ray that see a fan as a fan. It doesn’t matter if they are black, white, gay, or straight. And I think that’s what’s going to change Nashville over time.
Has that stereotype changed overnight, no, but I believe there is a crop of new thinkers out there that’s been planted which will overgrow that stupid way of thinking.
Let’s talk about the Concert for Love and Acceptance. What is it, and how did you come up with the idea for the event?
When I came out, one of the huge things that floored me was the lack of understanding and love in the community. At that time, I didn’t know if I would still have a career, but what I did know was that I would still fight for understanding and for love. I was willing to walk away from everything I had built in my life, but I didn’t want to lose who I was on the inside.
I was shocked at how few things there were for the community to participate in. The Concert for Love and Acceptance was all about giving Nashville legs and to give country music a way to help support that.
We always make sure we are scheduling it during CMA Fest to get the most attention possible. This is our 4th year doing it and we sell it out every year.
Is there a misconception that this is an LGBT only concert?
Our first year, only about 10% that showed up were LGBT. It isn’t an evening about an agenda. It is an evening about love and acceptance and educating people. The success of it is due to the way it changes hearts and minds.
It’s a night of great country music, some pop, and even a little comedy mixed in.
Have you gotten any negativity from hosting the event in Nashville?
We’ve honestly had a very positive reaction.
The worst thing that happened was we had Westboro Baptist Church picket us last year, and we sent coffee over to them. It’s all about love and acceptance.
Where do you see the concert 5-10 years from now?
Well we are already growing. We have a full partnership with GLAAD. We would like to see it turn into something like the Lilith Fair in the next few years. It would be great to bring it to a bunch of cities with a bunch of great artists, and then have the money made going to at-risk youth. If I have to retire doing one thing, I would welcome that.
Do you have any upcoming projects we can look forward to?
I do! I have a brand new album coming out this summer. I am rerecording 7 of my greatest hits to make them fresh and modern and doing a tribute to some of my friends that we lost this year— Troy Gentry, Lari White Daryle Singletary—and then I am releasing two brand new originals. I am also doing a jazz classics album this year.
I have a lot of exciting things happening right now. I am very lucky.
To learn more about Ty and the Concert for Love and Acceptance, visit http://www.tyherndon.com/