Ty Herndon topped the Billboard Country with "What Mattered Most," the inspirational ballad that was his debut single in 1995. Over the next few years, he was a regular presence in the Country Top Ten. His earnest delivery was a good match for the kind of streamlined country he sang -- music that didn't shun tradition but was aligned with the anthemic, rock-influenced arena-country pioneered by Garth Brooks at the dawn of the '90s. Herndon's hot streak quickly cooled after "Hands of a Working Man" reached number five in 1999, and his career entered a bumpy period that lasted for over a decade. He began to right himself in 2010, when he released the Dove-nominated gospel album Journey On, and a few years later, he established his legacy by becoming the first male country singer to come out as gay. After this 2014 disclosure, Herndon worked for LGBTQ organizations, including partnering with GLAAD for the annual Concert for Love And Acceptance, and continued to record, including re-recording his breakthrough "What Mattered Most" so its pronouns reflected his sexual orientation.
Born in Meridian, Mississippi on May 2, 1962 and raised in Butler, Alabama, Herndon became involved in music as a child, learning how to play piano and singing gospel in church. Following his high school graduation, he headed to Nashville with hopes of breaking into the country music industry. He ground out a living in the Music City, receiving a break when he sang lead in the Tennessee River Boys, a group formed in 1982 to help promote the Opryland USA theme park. Herndon stuck with the group for about a year, leaving in 1983 so he could compete on the televised competition Star Search; once he left, the Tennessee River Boys became Diamond Rio.
Herndon didn't hit the big time with Star Search. Following his stint on the show, he relocated to Texas, where he began slogging it out in local honky tonks, developing a dedicated following of fans. In 1993, he won the Texas Entertainer of the Year, an honor that helped pave the way to a contract with Epic Records.
"What Mattered Most," Herndon's first single for Epic, was a hit right out of the gate in early 1995, climbing its way to number one on the Billboard Country charts by the spring. It was quickly followed by its accompanying album, also titled What Mattered Most; it reached number nine on Billboard's Country Albums chart with the single "I Want My Goodbye Back" peaking at seven later that summer; "Heart Half Empty," a duet with Stephanie Bentley, went to 21 in early 1996. As quickly as his star rose, it was tarnished. On June 13 1995, Herndon was arrested at Gateway Park in Fort Worth, Texas by an undercover police officer who alleged the singer exposed himself; upon his arrest, it was discovered that Herndon also possessed methamphetamine. He arrived at a plea bargain that sent him to drug rehab, which resulted in the indecent exposure charge being dropped.
Despite this controversy, Herndon maintained his popularity with his second album, Living in a Moment. Arriving in August 1996, Living in a Moment peaked at six on Billboard's Country Albums chart and was preceded by its title track, which went to number one on Billboard's Country charts. "She Wants to Be Wanted Again" peaked at 21, but "Loved Too Much" went all the way to two in 1997, paving the way for "I Have to Surrender" to reach 17. Big Hopes, Herndon's third album, appeared in May 1998, and even though it produced three Top Ten hits -- "A Man Holdin' On (To a Woman Lettin' Go)" and "Hands of a Working Man" both went to number five, with "It Must Be Love" becoming Herndon's third (and last) number one -- the album went no further than 22 on the album charts, suggesting signs of the singer's popularity waning. Steam, his fourth album, appeared in November 1999, generating two modest hits: "Steam," which peaked at 18, and "No Mercy," which went to 26.
During the early 2000s, Herndon's career was plagued by a number of personal issues, many fueled by problems with drugs and alcohol. "Heather's Wall," the first single pulled from a provisional fifth Epic album, topped out at 37 on Billboard's Country chart, leading the label to shelve the project. After 2002's This Is Ty Herndon: Greatest Hits, a compilation that included the new song "A Few Short Years," the label and singer parted ways. In 2003, he released the seasonal album A Not So Silent Night on Riviera Records, but it wasn't until 2007 that he released an album of new original material. Entitled Right About Now, the album appeared on Titan/Fontana, and reached 41 on Billboard's Country charts. A second holiday album, A Ty Herndon Christmas, quickly followed in October 2007. Herndon moved to the FUNL Music indie in 2010, releasing the gospel album Journey On that June. He stayed with FUNL for 2013's Lies I Told Myself.
Herndon came out as gay in a November 2014 interview with People magazine, an event that helped reframe his personal struggles of the previous decades. He quickly began working with GLAAD on a variety of LGBTQ events, including the annual Concerts for Love and Acceptance, and establishing the Ty Herndon Rising Stars Grant, which awarded a cash sum to young people working toward inclusion in the music industry. Herndon's next album, House on Fire, appeared in 2016.
In 2019, Herndon released Got It Covered, a collection of covers that also featured a new version of his first hit "What Mattered Most," where the pronouns were changed to reflect his sexuality. This new version of "What Mattered Most" was released for Pride Month in June 2019, with the album following in August. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine