By the time he was 12 years old in 2000, Billy Gilman had a million-selling debut album that stormed both the country and pop charts. Five more LPs (including a Christmas record) followed, all of them finding their way onto the country chart, with his most recent, Everything and More, released in 2006.
During his time spent relatively out of the spotlight, Gilman continued to make music and perform live shows, but late last year the 27-year-old singer also made headlines when he was inspired to come out as a gay man. He did so via a heartfelt YouTube video posted the same day that his fellow country artist (and former Sony label mate) Ty Herndon publicly declared himself an “out, proud and happy” gay man. Earlier this month, Gilman was among the acts to perform at the first annual Concert for Love and Acceptance, co-hosted by Herndon and political commentator Meghan McCain. In addition to a breathtaking version of Roy Orbison’s “Crying,” Gilman debuted his latest single, “Say You Will.”
“For me to be here and to be 100 percent honest is just a very solid feeling to me, especially having literally grown up in this town,” the singer told Rolling Stone Country at the event. “I really haven’t changed; I’m just totally me now. It’s a really, really monumental time. The response from the youth in Middle America has been emails coming in droves saying, ‘Now I don’t feel alone.’ It went way beyond what I thought was going to happen.”
As an artist who has always embraced both country and pop music, Gilman has grown and matured while keeping his fan base from both genres entertained, even as mainstream country radio airplay for his singles has dwindled. Waging a double-edged uphill battle as an artist who has been away from country radio for years and one who is now openly gay in the staunchly conservative country marketplace, Gilman is acutely aware of the battle ahead.
“Let’s just be honest, country music is slowly coming around to being more accepting, but it will probably be many more years until an openly gay male artist even has a chance to top the charts,” he says in a message on his website. “It’s sad, but it’s true and I also can’t wait for that day to arrive.”
Much like a number of country artists – including Shania Twain and Faith Hill – did in the early part of the 21st century, Gilman has recorded two versions of his latest single, “Say You Will,” with both the original and pop version currently available on his iTunes page.
The Rhode Island native has also just released a beautifully shot black-and-white video for “Say You Will,” filmed in his home state – much of it obviously during chillier weather – with Gilman bundled up in a heavy jacket and walking through snow in between performing the song at various locations both indoors and outside. The tune, which tells the story of a boy-girl relationship, is reminiscent of the singer’s past hits, with soaring vocals and a tale of young love at its heart. It’s also the first release the Grammy-nominated singer has ever co-written in his two-decade career.