November 27, 1978
Every great song has a good prelude. And the song of GMCW could not have been written without first understanding the background and cultural context that motivated its birth. The LGBTQ+ choral movement began when a group of musicians considered forming a gay men’s chorus in San Francisco in the late ‘70s, as the gay civil rights movement grew. Auditions for this new, “out” chorus were held the evening of November 27, 1978, a day of grieving in San Francisco as earlier that day, an assassin’s bullets ended the lives of the city’s mayor and its first openly gay supervisor, Harvey Milk. And so, instead of an audition, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus (SFGMC) ended up making their “debut” at an impromptu memorial service for the slain men on the steps of the City Hall. Their first concert was a month later, and two-and-a-half years later, SFGMC launched a national tour that brought them to the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC in 1981.
The Birth of GMCW
The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC (GMCW) was founded in 1981 following that performance by SFGMC at the Kennedy Center. The effort to form a chorus was led primarily by Marsha Pearson, a “straight” woman and friend of Washington’s gay community. Inspired by the courage and the music of SFGMC, Pearson distributed flyers announcing a meeting to organize a gay men’s chorus. That meeting occurred at the old Gay Community Center at 1469 Church Street NW on June 28, 1981 (the 12th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.)