As It Happens

This gay country singer has re-released his hit single with male pronouns

"To sing it that way 25 years ago was never in my mind," says Ty Herndon. "I knew that I would probably be quite honestly taking my life in my hands if I did that."

Ty Herndon says he wants the next generation of LGBTQ kids to feel safe in the country music scene

Ty Herndon performs onstage at the 26th Annual GLAAD Media Awards In New York on May 9, 2015, in New York City. (Mike Coppola/Getty Images for GLAAD)
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When Ty Herndon was shooting the music video for the re-release of the song that launched his career, he became so emotional they had to stop filming. 

To kick off Pride month, the gay country singer has re-recorded his 1995 chart-topping love song What Mattered Most with the lyrics changed to make it about a man. 

"You know, I'm a pretty tough bird. I've been through a lot. But that little song started it all," Herndon told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"All these years of singing it one way, and then being able to sing it another with a bunch of my family and best friends sitting around — and this is the first time they heard it as well — I'm like, 'Oh, goodness gracious, we're having church up in here. Everybody's crying.'"

When he first started singing the song 25 years ago, a closeted Herndon would croon lyrics like, "Her eyes are blue/Her hair is long."

That version hit No. 1 on Billboard's Hot Country Songs charts and propelled Herndon to stardom. 

Sometimes he would close his eyes and imagine he was singing his parents' love song, rather than his own, he said. 

Other times, he'd imagine his then-partner — a long-haired, blue-eyed man who he kept a secret from his fans.

But in the new version, released on YouTube this week, Herdon sings about "his eyes" and "his hair" — swapping the pronouns to make the song more authentic to his own lived experience.

"To sing it that way 25 years ago was never in my mind," he said. "I knew that I would probably be quite honestly taking my life in my hands if I did that."

'My industry has embraced me'

But keeping such an integral part of his identity a secret was also putting his life in jeopardy. 

"I went to great lengths to hide it and, you know, it almost cost me my life a couple of times," he said. 

"But as my awesome mom says, you know, 'We're glad we didn't lose you. But it sure did become an awesome story for you.'"

Herndon says he's come a long way since those days. He's been out and proud since 2014, and has a partner of nine years who he calls the love of his life.

"I was fully prepared to walk away from my career just to live authentically and live on this planet with honesty and love — and by the grace of God, I didn't have to do that," he said. "My industry has embraced me."

Herndon speaks onstage during the 2017 Concert for Love & Acceptance on June 8, 2017, in Nashville, Tenn. (Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Love & Acceptance)

Since coming out to his fans, Herndon has made it his mission to give back to the LGBTQ community and make the country music industry a safer space for the next generation.

"I have so many kids say to me, 'We want to like country music, but country music doesn't like us,'" he said.

The remake of What Mattered Most is for them, he said. 

"That just seemed the right thing to do  —  to show these kids that, you know, I'm brave enough to sing it this way and you guys, you're brave enough to come to Nashville, and just, if you want to be in this community, that it's safe."

And his mom approves as well.

"My mom's always been one of my biggest fans, but she's also been very honest with me over the years," he said.

"I drove my truck over and sat down and played it for her, and we had a few tears ... and she said, 'Son, I don't know how this is going to be perceived. It's never been done before.' But she said, 'I agree with you that it needs to be heard this way.'"

Herndon will be performing What Mattered Most Wednesday night at Nashville's Wildhorse Saloon for his annual Concert for Love and Acceptance in partnership with the LGBTQ rights organization GLAAD. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Produced by Ashley Mak.