Lavender Country frontman, singer, songwriter, and the man who is widely recognized as the first openly gay country artist, Patrick Haggerty, has died according to his record label Don Giovanni Records. “Patrick Haggery was one of the funniest, kindest, bravest, and smartest people I ever met,” the label said in statement Monday afternoon, October 31st. “He never gave up fighting for what he believed in, and those around him who he loved and took care of will continue that fight.”
Based in Seattle, Lavender Country released the first gay-themed country album in history with their 1973 self-titled release. It wasn’t country music’s first gay album just because Patrick Haggerty happened to be gay. The songs were specifically about the gay lifestyle, and from a gay perspective. From Washington State originally and raised on a dairy farm, Haggerty was kicked out of the Peace Corps in 1966 for being homosexual. The Lavender Country album was funded by the Gay Community Social Services of Seattle.
Lavender Country was quite revolutionary at the time. In the early 70s, performers ran a big risk just being out of the closet, let alone broadcasting that fact through playing in a gay country band. Beyond the ridicule, openly gay musicians could be assaulted, and regularly received death threats. By standing against prejudice, Patrick Haggerty secured his name as an important figure in country music history. The original Lavender Country album is officially archived at the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Lavender Country wasn’t just about the music. It was about the radical activist attitude, and the pushing of boundaries and buttons that the band symbolized. As a band, it never was as much of a going commercial concern as it was an idea. Patrick Haggery was a professed socialist, and it was one of numerous projects he used to express his activism, performing at Pride rallies and political functions.
Born on September 27th, 1944 in Washington State near Port Angeles, Patrick Haggery was the sixth of ten children, and says his parents were always accepting of his sexuality. After high school and being kicked out of the Peace Corps., Haggerty became a socialist and was heavily involved in the gay rights movement. He later formed Lavender Country with Michael Carr (keyboards), Eve Morris (vocals and fiddle), and guitarist Robert Hammerstrom (the only heterosexual member of the group.)
The original lineup of Lavender Country disbanded in 1976, but Lavender Country continued on as a collective off and on for many years. Haggerty was also a member of the gay country music group Doug Stevens & The Outband from 2001 to 2003, the gay country music group Pearl River in 2003, and also had a duo with blues artist Bobby Taylor called Memory Lane, which regularly performed classic country and folk songs at nursing homes and senior centers.
In more recent years, Patrick Haggery and Lavender Country experience a resurgence of interest. In 2019, Haggerty re-formed the band with Dennis Fortin and Mark Newstetter on guitar, violinist Calvin K. Murasaki, singer-songwriter Mya Byrne on bass, James Wilson on piano, and Joyce Baker on drums. They released the band’s second album Blackberry Rose and Other Songs and Sorrows in 2019, which was given a full release by Don Giovanni Records in early 2022.
Haggerty was also featured in a rendition of the Lavender Country song “I Can’t the Stranger Out of You” (shortened to “Stranger”) on Trixie Mattel’s 2020 album Barbara.
The music of Lavender Country was regularly described as amateurish and under-developed, but to many of the fans of the band and Patrick Haggerty, that was not the point. It was the pioneering and groundbreaking spirit Patrick Haggerty brought to the music that inspired other LGBT artists to fearlessly express themselves within the country space.
Patrick Haggerty is survived by his two children, biological daughter Robin Boland, adopted son Amilcar Navarro, and husband Julius “J.B.” Broughton. He was 78 years old.