When Ty Herndon recorded a collection of holiday classics nearly 20 years ago, he could have never imagined the time in which they’d resurface.
On his new holiday album Regifted, Herndon breathes new life into his 2003 album Not So Silent Night, a project that’s taken on multiple forms over the past 20 years. Initially completed in 2000, Herndon released Not So Silent Night re-packaged with updated songs through his website in 2003, followed by another version with additional songs, A Ty Herndon Christmas, released in 2007. The original album came at a time when Herndon endured a series of personal challenges. He had lost his record deal three years prior and was struggling to find another one, in addition to overcoming alcoholism. “I was having a really tough time in life. At that point, I was lost, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was in a business that I felt had beat me up pretty badly, but it’s what I do. Just contemplating some poor choices in life at that point and just remembering that I was newly sober, it was a tough time,” he recalls to Audiofemme. “I just needed to make that record, so I took it back to the well of where I came from – my grandmother’s guitar.”
The recording process was as raw as Herndon’s emotions, the singer turning his living room into a recording studio where his friends helped him record the songs he used to hear echo off the walls of his grandmother’s Baptist church with her 17-soprano choir’s Christmas Cantata, including “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Little Drummer Boy,” “Silent Night” and “O Come O Come Emanuel,” the latter of which is a duet with fellow country singer and then-boyfriend, Waylon Payne. “But the thing that wasn’t tough is sitting down on the floor in front of a microphone and singing – so simple,” Herndon continues. “And that was a superstar in my life, the gift was the superstar, and I had to follow that.”
Nearly 20 years later, that gift resurfaces in the form of Regifted, maintaining the integrity of the original album while adding a stunning rendition of “Orphans of God” featuring longtime friend and Tony Award-winning Broadway star, Kristin Chenoweth. During a year consumed by the COVID-19 pandemic that led to a shelved documentary, a new album being placed on hold and more than 100 cancelled tour dates, Herndon found himself back in a dark place – so much so that he was temporarily unable to sing. “Everything felt like it was lost. All that darkness, I lost the ability to sing, there was nothing coming out,” Herndon explains. “I found myself in a spot of such darkness that I had very little faith, and faith is the light.”
But when Herndon’s manager brought the anniversary of Not So Silent Night to his attention, he felt a shift. “I lit up a little bit,” Herndon says of his reaction. “The minute he said that, I’ll never forget this, what popped into my brain was ‘Orphans of God’ – it’s time.” Released in 2006 by Christian group Avalon, the Dove Award-nominated song is one that Herndon has long wanted to record, but was waiting for the right opportunity to present itself. He received another sign that it was meant to be when his producer informed him that the song was already tracked, as they had recorded a piece of “Orphans of God” for a song on musician Paul Cardall’s upcoming album.
The puzzle was complete when Chenoweth agreed to sing with him, along with supporting vocals from former Avalon members Michael Passons and Melissa Greene, who departed the group before “Orphans of God” was recorded. Their voices collectively soaring on the uplifting song brought Herndon to tears. “It was so special, I sat down and I started crying,” Herndon says, adding that he was intentional about making the word “God” universal. “That was to give a lot of people out there who are just are lost, they need a hug, the word ‘God’ in this is a hug. It can be anything you want it to be because there are no orphans of love.”
Though Herndon made subtle changes to Regifted, such as taking his manger’s advice and ending the album with the a Capella rendition of “O Come All Ye Faithful,” which opens Not So Silent Night, he says that “Go Tell It on the Mountain” is a performance almost frozen in time. “‘Go Tell It on the Mountain’ was performed exactly like we sang it on my grandmother’s back porch almost my whole life. That is the most authentic piece on the record for me,” he says.
As Herndon reflects on the album’s initial creation, he remembers it as a family affair of people who showed up for him in his darkest hour, viewing the project from a meaningful perspective. “Having some of the greatest singers who’ve gone on to do magnificent things that were singing on that record, who just showed up because I called them and said, ‘I need you guys. There’s no money involved. I need you and come sing with me,’” he recalls. “It’s been crazy that music made in joyful desperation so long ago would surface today and sound so fresh. It’s like something from another world said ‘let’s just hold this album for 20 years.’”
Though time has changed many aspects of life in between, the albums have seemingly evolved with the singer, pinpointing dark periods in life that led Herndon to the light of music and self-growth. “The biggest thing I’ve learned about myself this year is that I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was,” he says. “There’s always been that underlying, ‘I’m going to crumble at any minute,’ and how much of me is really authentic and how much me is not. I know who I am now. I know who my people are now. I know who my friends are. So I have learned full circle what Tyrone Herndon is all about.”
He keeps the advice of his grandmother close at heart, too. “My grandmother used to tell me ‘if you go to sleep with the dark, you can certainly wake up with it. If you go to sleep with the light, you can wake up with it,’” he proclaims. “So I try to go to sleep with the light.”