Patrick Haggerty, who led the pioneering queer country group Lavender Country, has died. The news was announced on the band’s official social media pages. “After suffering a stroke several weeks ago, he was able to spend his final days at home surrounded by his kids and lifelong husband, JB. Love, and solidarity,” the statement reads. Haggerty was 78.
Born on September 27, 1944, Haggerty was raised on a dairy farm in a small rural community near Port Angeles, Washington. He joined the Peace Corps after high school, but in 1966 was discharged for being gay. In 1970, Haggerty moved to Seattle to attend a graduate program at the University of Washington and soon began writing folk and country songs, having taught himself how to play the guitar an early age. He started Lavender Country, which is considered the first openly gay country band, in 1972. Their self-titled debut, which included the songs ‘Cryin’ These Cocksucking Tears’ and ‘Come Out Singing’, arrived the following year.
In an interview with Pitchfork earlier this year, Haggerty reflected on the supportive community he grew up with and the influence it had on his music, particularly the encouragement he received from his father. “My dad said I could wear a ballerina outfit at 4-H camp and make blonde wigs out of twine to play like I had long hair with my sisters – being really brazen and sissy in the 1950s in a very rural setting, all because my dad said I could,” Haggerty said. “I like to say the reason that I made Lavender Country when I made it was because my dad said I could.”
Lavender Country broke up in 1976, but Haggerty continued his work as an activist and played in several Seattle bands over the years. Lavender Country reunited in 2000 after being the focus of a Journal of Country Music article on gay country artists, releasing the Lavender Country Revisited EP featuring two new songs. In 2014, their debut album was reissued by Paradise of Bachelors, whose co-founder Brendan Greaves wrote in a tribute: “He was more than a hero; he was also a friend, mentor, comrade, and fatherly figure for us and our families. He was hilarious too; it was always an adventure spending time with him.”
In 2019, the band released their first new album in almost 50 years, Blackberry Rose and Other Songs and Sorrows, which got reissued by Don Giovanni Records earlier this year. “Patrick Haggerty was one of the funniest, kindest, bravest, and smartest people I ever met,” the label said in a statement. “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.”