10 Of The Greatest And Most Famous LGBTQ Country Singers

In the 1970s, an out country performer would have been unthinkable. As society has moved forward, more and more artists of every stripe have felt more comfortable being true to who they are. In fact, the genre has an increasingly diverse and representative crop of singers. 

Here are 10 of the greatest and most famous LGBTQ country singers, though this list is far from definitive. 

Related: Check out our list of country music singers here.

1. Brandi Carlile

Born in Washington state, Brandi Carlile was singing for large audiences by age 8. Her debut album, consisting of tracks she recorded herself at home, rose to number 80 on the Billboard charts in 2005. 

Subsequent albums sold well, but 2018’s By the Way, I Forgive You grabbed the public’s attention and made Carlile a star.

Some 16 years earlier, Carlile came out as a lesbian in an interview at a time when there were few LGBTQ+ artists in any music genre, let alone country.

She and her wife, Catherine Shepherd, were married in 2012 and have two daughters.

2. Lil Nas X

Born Montero Lamar Hill in 1999, Lil Nas X grew up in Atlanta, sometimes in rough parts of that city.

Before his success, he bought a beat online for $30, turned it into “Old Town Road,” and used his social media savvy to become a viral sensation. 

“Old Town Road” was a huge hit, charting on three Billboard metrics: the Hot 100, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, and Hot Country Songs. However, Billboard dropped the song from the last chart, the implication being that it wasn’t real country music. 

While many decried this as a decision motivated by racism, Lil Nas X responded by drafting Billy Ray Cyrus to write a verse and sing it on a new version of the song. There was little Billboard could say to refute that a song with Cyrus wasn’t country.

Lil Nas came out publicly almost as an afterthought, tweeting that his fans should listen closely to his lyrics. While he has yet to duplicate the success of his first single, his album Montero reached number two in the US and UK. It included the number one hit, “Industry Baby,” featuring Jack Harlow.

3. Ty Herndon

Ty Herndon spent time in Nashville and Texas chasing the dream. In the early 1990s, just as he was ready to throw in the towel, he got enough notice in the Dallas area to attract the attention of Nashville record execs. Until then, they’d had little time for him.

In 1995, he released “What Mattered Most,” his biggest hit to date. As the song was gaining traction, Herndon was arrested. He would spend the next few years rehabbing his image. 

He had three number-one hits before 2002 and placed nearly 20 singles on the Billboard charts.

In 2014, he came out as gay. Eventually, he re-recorded “What Matters Most” with pronouns reflecting a relationship with a man instead of the default boy-girl trope of most country music.

4. Chely Wright

Chely Wright has made a name for herself as a songwriter, making her bones in the 1990s and winning Top New Vocalist honors from the Academy of Country Music in 1995. 

Born and raised in Kansas by a family that loved its country music, Wright laid her plans for country stardom at the age of four. 

After doing seasonal work at Opryland, she landed opening gigs for the likes of Tim McGraw and Alan Jackson. She released several albums, all to critical acclaim, with more than 1.5 million copies sold.

Aside from her music, Wright has been a passionate activist for the LGBTQ+ community since coming out in 2010. 

5. Brandy Clark

Brandy Clark grew up in Washington state, where she started writing songs as a kid. She never really stopped and has written for a slew of famed artists, including George Strait, Reba McEntire, and Miranda Lambert. 

She released albums of her own material in 2013, 2016, and 2020 and has received nominations from every major awards organization, including the Grammys, the CMA awards, and the Academy of Country Music. She won the CMA award for Song of the Year for “Follow Your Arrow” in 2014.

Clark hasn’t slowed since. As an out country star, she hasn’t ever had a coming-out moment because she’s always been out— at least professionally. However, she has stated she didn’t understand her sexuality until she got into her 20s.

6. Billy Gilman

As an 11-year-old, Billy Gilman hit it big with “One Voice.” He was the youngest person ever to chart so high on a Billboard chart, but as his voice changed, so did his fortunes.

He banged around for a while, recording albums that went largely unnoticed. When Ty Herndon came out in 2014, Gilman felt empowered to do the same. 

Two years later, he appeared on NBC’s “The Voice,” where he picked up new fans. However, he has yet to replicate his success from his childhood. 

7. Orville Peck

Orville Peck burst onto the scene in 2019 with an unconventional aesthetic that involved wearing a fringed mask. That covering has never come off, with Peck only ever performing in it. Thus, like Sia, his identity is a mystery open to speculation. 

Orville Peck is a pseudonym, and all we really know about him is that he’s gay, he sings country music, and he has piercing blue eyes. 

Of course, one thing without a doubt is that Peck is an impressive songwriter. He’s released an album on Sub Pop and one on Columbia, the latter reaching number three on the UK charts.

8. T.J. Osborne

As half of the duo The Brothers Osborne, T.J. Osborne grew up on the Chesapeake Bay with his brother John. 

After signing a record deal in 2012, they steadily amassed a catalog of hits, each bigger than the last.

But the moment most of the US remembers the pair for is “The Night the Lights Went Out”— the Thanksgiving Day NFL halftime show in 2019 in Detroit.

The duo’s hit “Younger Me” is about Osborne’s experience coming out as a mainstream country star. 

9. Trixie Mattel

With drag culture going mainstream, it seems only logical that a drag queen country star would emerge, and that’s exactly what Trixie Mattel has done.

After winning season three of the All-Stars edition of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Mattel had made a big enough splash to do pretty much anything. 

While drag queens and country music seem at odds, Mattel has made inroads, especially with songwriting and singing skills that go beyond big hair and makeup.

Her second full-length album, One Stone, made it all the way to number one on Billboard’s Heatseekers Charts.

10. Waylon Payne

Waylon Payne was bound to draw attention in the country world just because of his pedigree. His father, Jody Nelson, played guitar for Willie Nelson, and his mother, Sammi Smith, was a hit-making country singer herself. Not to mention, Payne was named for family friend Waylon Jennings.

Payne was raised by a strict and religious aunt and uncle. His youth was tumultuous, filled with abuse and addiction. When Payne came out at age 18, his aunt and uncle disowned him. 

He soldiered on, landing a role in “Walk the Line,” the Johnny Cash biopic, as Jerry Lee Lewis, and released a solo album in 2004.

It would be another 16 years before his next one. Nevertheless, he has recorded with such industry luminaries as Miranda Lambert and Lee Ann Womack.

Conclusion

Not all these names have hit the storied heights of Brandi Carlile and Lil Nas X, but they each have talent and ability. What’s more, many have overcome barriers to achieve success and representation unimaginable even a few decades ago. Today, though, these ten artists are out, proud, and making their marks on country music.

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Written by Laura Macmillan
Laura has over 12 years experience teaching both classical and jazz saxophone and clarinet. She now resides in California where she works as a session and live performer.