Back in 1995, Ty Herndon had his mainstream breakthrough with the song “What Mattered Most,” a romantic ballad in which the country star sang about a woman he was in love with. The song proved to be a hit, climbing all the way to No. 1 on Billboard‘s Hot Country Songs chart, and became his first song to make it on to the Billboard Hot 100.
But in 1995, Herndon was also still in the closet. The star didn’t come out as gay until 2014, almost 20 years later. Now, Herndon is reclaiming his identity by re-releasing his classic hit, but this time with the pronouns and subject changed. Wherein the original version he sang “Her eyes are blue, her hair was long/ In ’64, she was born in Baton Rouge,” he now sings, “His eyes are blue, his hair is long/ In ‘64, he was born in Baton Rouge.”
In an interview for NPR’s All Songs Considered, Herndon said he would have to imagine his parents and their relationship to make the old version of the song feel true when he sang it live. “But at the time, I was also in a relationship with a beautiful boy,” he revealed. “His hair was long and his eyes were blue. So I did think about him quite a bit.”
Herndon also revealed that he was inspired to re-release the song so he could send a message to any of the kids who were listening that felt isolated by the country genre. “When I go and speak to kids, I hear this all the time. They’re like — especially the LGBT kids — ‘We really want to like country music, but we don’t think country music likes us,’” he said. “It starts with me. It starts with artists that have been there.”
On Thursday night (June 6), Herndon is hosting GLAAD’s Concert for Love & Acceptance in Nashville, which is dedicated to celebrating the intersection of country music and the LGBTQ community. Performers at the event include Daughtry, Harper Grae, Chely Wright and more.
Check out Ty Herndon’s new version of his song “What Mattered Most” below: