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Choruses and Bands  
 
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Since they were first established in the 1970s, lesbian and gay musical organizations have grown remarkably in number, size, and sophistication. Their many concerts, recordings, and events are among the most striking examples of communal expression within the gay and lesbian subculture.

Most medium and large North American cities boast gay and lesbian choruses, as do many cities in Europe and Oceania. These organizations have evolved to become much more than musical institutions. As representatives of gay and lesbian communities, they generate powerful political and social expression both for and between those communities, through texts and symbolism as well as through the sheer emotional power of music.

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As alternatives to a bar/club culture, they are catalysts for the creation of solidarity and commonality among individuals often marginalized by the larger society.

Early Lesbian and Gay Musical Groups

Lesbian musical organizations began appearing in the 1970s. The earliest of these was established by composer Roberta Kosse in 1971 in New York, and called Women Like Me. The ensemble mostly performed Kosse's own works. It disbanded in 1980.

Hester Brown started the Victoria Woodhull All-Women's Marching Band in 1973 in New York. She named the group for a nineteenth-century feminist presidential candidate. The band played for the first Susan B. Anthony Day celebration and for three of the New York Gay Liberation Day parades. Although the Woodhull Band was not exclusively lesbian, its theme song was "When the Dykes Go Marching In."

Catherine Roma founded the oldest chorus still in operation, the Anna Crusis Women's Choir, in 1975 in Philadelphia. This group has since joined the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses (GALA), becoming its senior member.

On the West Coast, vocalist and conductor Sue Fink established the Los Angeles Community Women's Chorus in early 1976.

The Gotham Male Chorus was founded in New York in late 1977 by conductor Donald Rock, who wanted a chorus that would "dig music as well as each other." In 1980 this group added women to become the Stonewall Chorale, the first of the gay and lesbian mixed-voice ensembles.

The Legacy of Jon Sims

The San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Marching Band & Twirling Corps, the first such organization to declare a gay or lesbian identity by name, was founded in June 1978 by Jon Reed Sims (1947-1984). It made its first public appearance later that month at the city's Gay Pride Day parade.

After the establishment of the Band & Twirling Corps, Sims founded in rapid succession the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus (November 1978, at the public memorial for slain City Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone), Golden Gate Performing Arts (an administrative organization, March 1979), the orchestra Lambda Pro Musica, and the San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Men's Community Chorus.

Sims's work inspired a network of gay and lesbian instrumental and choral ensembles that came into existence with remarkable speed.

Choruses were soon founded in Los Angeles (July 12, 1979), Seattle (September 1979), and Chicago (October 1979). A 1981 national tour by the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus inspired the founding of choruses and bands in many other cities.

Sims directed the Band & Twirling Corps until January 1982. Under his leadership, the Corps presented concerts at such important San Francisco venues as the Louise Davies Symphony Hall, Grace Cathedral, and the famous disco Dreamland.

Sims died of AIDS in San Francisco on July 16, 1984. From the beginning, he intended to create a national network of gay and lesbian instrumental and choral ensembles. The success of that network, both during his lifetime and after, remains an astonishing legacy.

Sister Singers Network and GALA

In 1981, the Sister Singers Network was established among the women's and lesbian choruses. In 2002 it has forty-five choruses as members. It has produced a number of regional, national, and international women's choral festivals and encourages cooperation and sharing of resources among its members.

The first organizational meeting of what later became GALA (the Gay and Lesbian Association of choruses) occurred in June 1981 in Chicago. That meeting involved a number of directors and founders of ensembles, including Jerry Carlson (Chicago Gay Men's Chorus, later Los Angeles Gay Men's Chorus); Dennis Coleman (Seattle Men's Chorus); Richard Garrin (Chicago's Windy City Gay Chorus); Dick Kramer (San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus); Gary Miller (New York City Gay Men's Chorus); and Susan Schleef (Chicago's Artemis Singers).

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