Lavender Country’s Patrick Haggerty, the state’s pioneering gay country singer, has died entertainment

Patrick Haggerty of pioneering Washington country band Lavender Country has died.

The lifelong activist and uncompromising singer-songwriter released what is widely considered the first gay country album in 1973. Although his music career, which he saw as a vehicle for his activism, went on a decade-long hiatus shortly after Lavender Country’s debut album , the Bremerton artist had been performing across the country in recent years after Haggerty’s music was pulled from the dustbins of the time and caught the ear of a new generation and influenced artists like 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, Haggerty had a stroke that forced him to cancel a number of fall shows, and according to Jack Moriarity, a family friend who helped manage Lavender Country and played in the band, Haggerty has “been pretty much in Hospital then.” After being moved to hospice a few days ago, Haggerty, 78, died early Monday morning, Moriarity and Lavender Country’s label Don Giovanni Records confirmed.

Lavender Country’s outspoken songs, released four years after the Stonewall riots, found little audience other than Seattle gay liberation activists to hear them or watch Lavender Country play small local shows, including the first out of town sanctioned Pride event that drew around 400 people to the Seattle Center in 1974.

But that all changed in 2014, when a small boutique label re-released the self-titled debut of the short-lived Seattle band, which went unrecognized outside of the local gay community. Almost every major music release trumpeted the historical significance of Haggerty’s music, which was ahead of its time in celebrating sexual freedom and fiercely criticizing heteronormativity and sexism—especially in a genre marketed to conservative audiences.

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

At recent shows in Lavender Country, the self-proclaimed “loudmouthed queer Marxist activist” has often regaled audiences with stories from the frontlines of the gay liberation and labor rights movements and championed radical and inclusive politics. Between songs exploring sexual alienation and comedic tributes to Clara Fraser, a Seattle activist, Haggerty often took a heartwarming moment at local shows to show appreciation for his husband and partner of 35 years, Julius “JB” Broughton pay. Haggerty is also survived by two children, Amilcar Navarro and Robin Boland.

“It’s weird because I’ve known for most of my life that Patrick was a political activist. That’s what he’d done with his life, whether it was… running for local elections or getting involved with left-wing newspapers,” Moriarity said. “But I didn’t know about Lavender Country for a long time because that was the footnote in his life.”

After growing up on a farm in Dry Creek, a small community west of Port Angeles, Haggerty joined the Peace Corp but was fired in 1966 when he was “caught in a compromising sexual position” with another man. It had a profound impact on Haggerty and helped fuel the activist flame that fueled his life’s work. “This experience changed me completely,” he said. “It put me on the path to radical activism and opened my eyes to capitalism and all its contradictions.”

With a limited audience and no real opportunities in the industry, Lavender Country disbanded in 1976, its members struggling to make ends meet and pursue other projects. As an out and gay activist in the ’70s, Haggerty said it was difficult to find employment, even though he had a master’s degree in social work.

In the ’80s, Haggerty took part in occupations led by Seattle’s black community that prevented the construction of a new Central District police precinct and another that helped transform the abandoned Colman School into what is now the Northwest African American Museum is. He ran for Seattle City Council and a seat in the legislature, coordinating with the local section of the Nation of Islam, whose leadership at the time was quite progressive. Although he didn’t win, both bids successfully reinforced their message of black and gay unity, Haggerty said.

Though he thought his performing days were behind him, Haggerty continued to write songs even after Lavender Country disbanded. In the 2000s, he found a lucrative niche singing classic country songs in retirement communities and doing 100 shows a year for people who didn’t know anything about Lavender Country. “I sang ‘Your Cheating Heart’ to octogenarians in Kitsap County and was thrilled to finally be able to make music that didn’t have a scarlet letter on me,” he said.

But Lavender Country’s self-titled debut had 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 its initial release. That year, Don Giovanni Records released Lavender Country’s second album, Blackberry Rose, nearly 50 years after the band’s first record.

“So sad to hear that queer country grandfather Patrick Haggerty has ascended to that big gay honky tonk in heaven,” Orville Peck wrote in an Instagram post as news of Haggerty’s death broke. “As one of the funniest, bravest and kindest souls I’ve ever known, he spearheaded a movement and a message in the country that was virtually unknown. A truly unique legend.”

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