Much has been written lately about Steve Grand, the 23-year-old artist whom the press has described as "the first openly gay country singer." Though Grand is cute and a good singer, he is hardly "the first openly gay country singer."
That honor belongs to Patrick Haggerty, who along with others created the country group Lavender Country, and an album of the same name, forty years ago.
Haggerty was born in 1944 and raised on a dairy farm in Washington state. After college he joined the Peace Corps but was discharged in 1966 for being gay. He then moved to Seattle, where he became active in that city's Gay Liberation Front.
In 1972 he formed Lavender Country, a group consisting of Haggerty (singer and guitarist), Michael Cart (keyboardist), Eve Morris (singer and fiddler) and Robert Hammerstrom (guitarist). The group's self-titled 1973 album was funded and released by Gay Community Social Services of Seattle with assistance from local activist Faygele Ben-Miriam. Lavender Country performed at Seattle's first Pride event in 1974 and at other LGBT events in Washington state before dissolving in 1976.
Listening to Lavender Country again, which I am doing while writing this article, reminds me of how much the LGBT community owes groundbreaking artists like Haggerty and his group who paved the way for many to follow. Out country singer-songwriter Doug Stevens, who produced his first album Out In the Country in 1993, described Lavender Country as "a gay country band playing out, political, and sexual-liberation songs written in an old fashioned, Hank Williams-like style. . . The songs are cleverly written and speak of the oppressive situations that gay people often found themselves in at the time. Some of the songs are funny, some are sexual and others are down right tragic."