Lavender Country’s Patrick Hagerty, WA’s pioneering gay country singer, dies aged 78

Patrick Hagerty of the pioneering Washington country band Lavender Country has died.

A lifelong activist and uncompromising singer-songwriter, in 1973 he released what many consider to be the first gay-themed country album. Although his music career, which he saw as a vehicle for his activism, took a decades-long hiatus shortly after his debut album Lavender Country , the Bremerton artist has continued to perform concerts across the country in recent years after Hagerty’s music was pulled from the dustbin. time and attracted the attention of a new generation. He influenced artists such as queer country star Orville Peck and drag star/singer-songwriter Trixie Mattel, who covered Lavender Country’s “I Can’t Shake the Stranger Out of You.”

About a month ago, Hagerty suffered a stroke that forced him to cancel his fall concert series, and according to Jack Moriarity, a family friend who helped manage Lavender Country and played in the band, Hagerty “was pretty much in the hospital since times. later.” After moving into a hospice a few days ago, Hagerty, 78, died early Monday morning, Moriarity and Lavender Country’s label, Don Giovanni Records, confirmed.

Released four years after the Stonewall uprising, Lavender Country’s songs didn’t find much of an audience beyond Seattle’s gay liberation activists, who heard them or saw Lavender Country play small local gigs, including the first city-sanctioned Pride, which in 1974 drew about 400 people to the Seattle Center.

But that changed in 2014, when a small boutique label reissued the self-titled debut of a short-lived Seattle band that went largely unrecognized outside of the local gay community. Virtually every major music publication trumpeted the historic significance of Hagerty’s music, which was ahead of its time in its celebration of sexual freedom and fierce critique of heteronormativity and sexism—especially in a genre marketed to conservative audiences.

“I didn’t play music for decades because Lavender Country put a scarlet letter on my back and I was untouchable for a long time,” Hagerty said in an interview earlier this year. “So I went and had a different life.”

At recent Lavender Country shows, the self-described “rabble-rouser, queer, Marxist activist” has often regaled audiences with stories from the front lines of the gay liberation and workers’ rights movement and advocates for radical and inclusive politics. Between songs about sexual alienation and comedic tributes to fellow Seattle activist Clara Frazier, Hagerty often used a poignant moment at local shows to thank her husband and partner of 35 years, Julius “JB” Broughton. Hagerty is also survived by two children, Amilcar Navarro and Robin Boland.

“It’s amazing because for most of my life I knew Patrick was a political activist. That’s what he did with his life, whether he was running for local elections or participating in left-wing newspapers,” Moriarity said. “But I actually didn’t even know about Lavender Country for a long time because it was a footnote in his life.”

Raised on a farm in Dry Creek, a small community west of Port Angeles, Hagerty enlisted in the Peace Corps but was kicked out in 1966 when he was “caught in a sexually compromising position” with another man. It had a profound effect on Hagerty and helped ignite the activist flame that fueled his life’s work. “This experience changed me in a profound way,” he said. “It set me on a path of radical activism and opened my eyes to capitalism and all its contradictions.”

With a limited audience and no real industry opportunities, Lavender Country disbanded in 1976, leaving its members to make ends meet and pursue other projects. Hagerty said being a gay activist in the 1970s made it difficult to find work despite having a master’s degree in social work.

During the 1980s, Hagerty participated in occupations led by Seattle’s black community that prevented the construction of a new Central District police station and another that helped transform the abandoned Coleman School into what is now the Museum of the African American Northwest. He ran for the Seattle City Council and a seat in the state legislature, coordinating with the local chapter of the Nation of Islam. Although he didn’t win, both bids were successful in amplifying their message of black gay unity, Hagerty said.

Although he believed his performing days were behind him, Hagerty continued to write songs even after Lavender Country broke up. In the 2000s, he found a lucrative niche singing classic country songs in retirement communities, performing 100 concerts a year for people who knew nothing about Lavender Country. “I sang ‘Your Cheating Heart’ to an eighty-year-old pet in Kitsap County and was so excited to finally be able to do music without the scarlet letter,” he said.

But Lavender Country’s self-titled debut enjoyed a growing reputation among obscure record collectors, and its 2014 reissue and award-winning documentary brought Haggerty’s music to a wider audience decades after it was first released. This year, Don Giovanni Records reissued Lavender Country’s second album, “Blackberry Rose,” nearly 50 years after the band’s first recording.

“So sad to hear that the granddaddy of queer country, Patrick Hagerty, has gone up to that big gay honky in the sky,” said country star Peck wrote in an Instagram post when news of Hagerty’s death broke. “One of the funniest, bravest and kindest people I’ve ever known, he pioneered a movement and initiative in Country that was virtually unheard of. A real extraordinary legend.”

Hagerty, a charismatic spitfire and sharp storyteller, apparently enjoyed the increased interest in the country of lavender and its music, which he described as “a tool of anti-fascist art to help us in the fight.”

“I’m a country musician at this point,” Hagerty said. “I never dreamed it would happen, but it did. And I don’t need to make any compromises. I’m becoming a socialist hawker, and I’m also pursuing a career in country music.

“And it doesn’t get any better than that, man.”

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