It was a hot July evening in 1979. A small group of men opened the doors to a room at the Plummer Park Community Center in Los Angeles (now West Hollywood), waiting and wondering if anybody would show up. They had posted flyers around the neighborhood announcing the formation of a new gay chorus and this night was to be its first rehearsal. To their great surprise, 99 men appeared and a chorus was born. Within three months of that rehearsal, founding director Harold Kjellberg led the group through its first major event: the March on Washington, D.C. and the first national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) concert at the Washington Memorial.
While public understanding of gay life has evolved much since 1979, there is still fierce resistance to lasting change by opponents to LGBT equality. And the road to today has not always been easy. Through the height of the AIDS crisis, the Chorus lost over 150 members. Only a few original members remain. As a result, GMCLA has a deep history of service within the LGBT community, singing at countless memorials, making and commissioning music that helps the community to mourn, to celebrate, to dream, and to prepare for victory.
For over 40 years, the Chorus has built an international reputation for musical excellence while remaining deeply rooted in service to the Los Angeles community. Hailed by the Los Angeles Times as “one of the last important links to a glorious tradition in music,” GMCLA has more than doubled in size to over 300 members, added professional and artistic staff, toured nationally and internationally, released fifteen CD’s, commissioned more than 300 new works and arrangements and appeared frequently on national television. The Chorus membership donates over 60,000 volunteer hours annually to make GMCLA’s mission of musical excellence and community partnership a reality.
This remarkable compilation by GMCLA Alumni Russ Bickers highlights the group’s participation at the first March on Washington on October 14, 1979. The National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights drew between 75,000 and 125,000 gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people, and straight allies to demand equal civil rights and urge the passage of protective civil rights legislation.
Ninety-nine gay men assemble in July at West Hollywood’s Plummer Park to form GMCLA.
GMCLA incorporates with assistance from AT&T.
First performance at Hollywood High School, where the newly formed group made a cameo appearance as part of the Great American Freedom Band’s concert.
GMCLA participates in the first festival of the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses (GALA), of which GMCLA is a founding member.
GMCLA litigates and successfully prevents attempts to quash the word ‘Gay’ from its title and promotional material with the American Choral Directors Association, and in its Whitepages telephone listing with Pacific Bell.
GMCLA becomes the first business in West Hollywood with the word ‘Gay’ on its street sign.
GMCLA feels the devastating loss of the HIV/AIDS epidemic by losing its revered musical director, Jerry Carlson. Ultimately, over 150 members of the chorus succumbed to the disease. Dr. Jon Bailey becomes the third Artistic Director of GMCLA.
GMCLA becomes the first gay men’s U.S. chorus to tour Central Europe. Concerts were performed in Copenhagen – Denmark, Berlin – Germany, Prague – Czechoslovakia (prior to the country separating into two), Vienna – Austria, and Budapest – Hungary. Featured in a documentary entitled “Out Loud” which aired on PBS.
GMCLA performs in New York City’s Carnegie Hall for the 25th Stonewall Anniversary.
Vox Femina’s debut performance as a special guest at GMCLA’s “Naked Man” concert.
GMCLA releases two CDs: “Songs of Love” and its first holiday CD “Don We Now…”
GMCLA becomes first gay men’s chorus ever to perform for a sitting President of the United States – Bill Clinton. GMCLA launches second international tour and is broadcast on Russian television. Concerts were performed in Moscow and St. Petersburg – Russia, Helsinki – Finland, Tallinn – Estonia, and Berlin.
Dr. Jon Bailey resigns as Artistic Director after 14 seasons and welcomes Dr. Bruce Mayhall as GMCLA’s fourth Artistic Director. GMCLA appears on NBC’s “Will & Grace.”
GMCLA performs for Sir Elton John at Society of Singers event.
GMCLA appears on HBO’s “Six Feet Under.”
GMCLA becomes the first openly gay chorus to tour South America, raising money for LGBT and HIV organizations. Concerts were performed in Santiago – Chile, Buenos Aires – Argentina, Montevideo – Uruguay, and Rio de Janeiro – Brazil. GMCLA helps begin first South American gay chorus in Rio de Janeiro.
GMCLA’s Alive Music Project gives debut performance at La Canada High School.
GMCLA welcomes E. Jason Armstrong as the fifth Artistic Director. His first ‘gig’ is our performance for President Barack Obama at a West Hollywood fundraiser!
GMCLA records video as part of it gets better campaign in support of LGBT teens. Video goes viral, reaching over 800,000 views.
Season 34 becomes GMCLA’s most successful season yet, with dazzling concerts; special guests Stephen Schwartz and Liz Callaway; launch of the It Gets Better national tour, Outside Voices Youth Chorus; and a performance on the 85th Annual Academy Awards.
GMCLA performs the national anthem with Amber Riley for Dodger Stadium’s first LGBT night.
The it gets better Tour travels extensively with week long residencies in Ohio, Wisconsin, Hawaii, and Colorado.
Dr. Joe Nadeau is welcomed as GMCLA’s new Artistic Director.
Members of GMCLA travel to Cuba to meet Mano a Mano and become familiar with Cuban culture – in preparation for June’s concert Oye Mi Canto, featuring the men of Mano a Mano.
The fifth annual Voice Awards is held at the Dolby Ballroom Hollywood, supporting GMCLA’s Alive Music Project, and it gets better Tour.
I Rise: Performing at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in ‘I Rise’, a groundbreaking concert that explores the intersection of Faith and the LGBTQ communities. A collaboration with 27 Los Angeles based faith groups, performers number more than 400 on the concert hall stage. Guest artists include Holly Near, and Breanna Sinclaire.
GMCLA begins a collaboration with Arts for Incarcerated Youth
A GMCLA appearance at the 2020 Film Independent Spirit Awards gains more than 7 million online views.
Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles stands on the shoulders of its members who have passed on. Prior to 1995 the chorus witnessed the loss of over 150 members due to complications of HIV/AIDS. Sadly, at the peak of the plague the chorus was performing at a memorial service for one of our members about every three weeks. GMCLA honors and celebrates those men who contributed so much to our vocal community, and moved on.
We are very pleased to include First Nighter Russ Bicker’s archive. Russ was active in the Chorus from 1979 through 1996, and has curated a remarkable visual history of many of GMCLA’s past members. Access his In Memoriam archive below.
Kevin L. Christensen
Maurice Jay Durall
Donald Lee Fleeman
Frank Javier Gutierrez
Preston Hampton, Jr.
Lance J. Olson
Mark D. Owen
James Rice Russell
Ronn St. Pierre
William E. Trusten
Lesesne Van Antwerp
Thomas Van Deusen
Richard A. Verdugo
George Charles Weiss