Windy City Performing Arts Historical Retrospective – 1979–2009
Windy City Gay Chorus (WCGC), founded by Jerry Carlson, met for the first time on October 9, 1979, and started rehearsals the following week under the direction of Richard Garrin. The chorus made its concert debut at Don We Now, a joint performance with the Chicago Gay Pride Band (CGPB), on December 16, 1979, at Stages Music Hall. WCGC sang its first solo concert on June 22, 1980, at Lake View High School. This season saw the birth of the long standing traditions of holiday caroling at neighborhood locations such as Illinois Masonic Medical Center and local “watering holes” and of WCGC participation in the annual Chicago Pride Parade. This season also saw the creation of Toddlin’ Town Performing Arts, Inc. (TTPA), the umbrella organization that included WCGC, CGPB, and the Artemis Singers.
WCGC performed its first concert outside of Chicago at Milwaukee’s Engleman Hall on March 14, 1981. In May, TTPA hosted the International Choral Directors and Managers of Gay Choruses Conference, the predecessor to future conferences organized by the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses (GALA Choruses). Windy City Slickers is formed.
Many in Chicago were saddened by the death of Evelyn Marie Hampton, enthusiastic and beloved member of WCGC, on November 19, 1981. Evelyn was active in raising funds for the chorus’ trip to New York City where WCGC made its debut at Avery Fisher Hall on February 14, 1982 in a joint concert with the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus. The New York News wrote on 2/16/82, “…a thorough pleasure in tone, balance, precision and sheer joy of singing…the results were positively heroic.” Later that season, the Evelyn Hampton Fund was established to aid WCGC members in meeting the financial requirements of membership.
WCGC terminated its relationship with TTPA to incorporate as Windy City Performing Arts, Inc. (WCPA). The season produced performances with Ginni Clemmens and with the Twin Cities Men’s Chorus and appearances at the Greater Chicago Gay & Lesbian Democrats Rally and Discovery ’82, the Gay Academic Union Conference.
Windy City Gay Chorus won first place at Johnny Mann’s Great American Choral Festival on May 19, 1984 at the national finals in Columbus, Ohio. The chorus had previously won first place at the regional competition in Peoria. The Illinois House of Representatives passed House Resolution 1044, congratulating the ensemble, and Mayor Harold Washington lauded the chorus as “a unique asset to the cultural life” of Chicago. This triumphant season included WCGC performances with Pitzen Brass, with Karen Mason and Brian Lasser, and with the Twin Cities Men’s Chorus at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. It also heralded WCGC’s first commissioned work, Civil War Songs by Clark Eastham.
WCGC mourned the passing of William O. Henderson on May 7, 1985, the first of dozens of members lost to AIDS. The chorus sang at Chicago Sings Against AIDS, the first of many appearances in support of the fight against AIDS. WCGC made its celebrated debut at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall on June 22, 1985. Banners on Michigan Avenue, bearing “WINDY CITY GAY CHORUS,” announced the performance months in advance. This season the ensemble performed with Audio Express and Pitzen Brass, premiered the commissioned works of A Winter Triptych by James Adler and Three Songs About Love by Ronald Combs. WCGC also appeared at Howard Brown’s 10th Anniversary celebration, the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) Illinois State Convention in Naperville, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day concert and ACDA Chicago Sings III.
WCGC was greeted by a standing ovation on April 5, 1986, at the ACDA Central Regional Conference in Indianapolis after winning the fight to sing using its full name, instead of being barred because the word “Gay” was part of the chorus’ moniker. WCGC benefited from earlier litigation brought, and won out of court, by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, then led by director Jerry Carlson, against the Western Division of the ACDA. Later in the season, the ensemble attended its first national GALA Choruses festival, GALA Festival II, in Minneapolis and performed exchange concerts with the Champaign-Urbana Men’s Chorus.
WCGC welcomed guest conductor and founder Jerry Carlson at Don We Now VIII on December 6, 1986. The chorus traveled to Denver to perform an exchange concert with the Denver Gay Men’s Chorus and premiered the commissioned works A Choral Fantasy by Mark Riese and As A Driven Leaf by J. Kawarsky.
This season the chorus went on the road to Champaign to perform with the Champaign-Urbana Men’s Chorus and to Washington to perform with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington. WCGC also sang with The Pumps and premiered the commissioned works A Christmas Service by William Kimbel Lyons and Three Pieces After Tennyson by Ron Nelson.
WCGC celebrated its decade of excellence with a 10th Anniversary Reunion Concert on March 18, 1989 at Preston Bradley Center. More than 50 alumni formed the Festival Reunion Chorus for the performance. Later in the season the ensemble premiered the commissioned work Welcome! Sing, Be Merry! By Dean X. Johnson and went on tour to San Francisco to perform with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus and to Seattle for GALA Festival III.
This season WCGC traveled to Detroit to perform with Detroit Together Men’s Chorus and Sistrum: Lansing Women’s Chorus. The chorus performed with The Pumps and MUSE: Cincinnati’s Women’s Chorus and premiered the commissioned work Roll Round With The Year by Alice Parker. The best accolade of the season was June 16, 1990–proclaimed “Windy City Gay Chorus Day” in Chicago by Mayor Richard M. Daley.
WCGC was involved in many outreach efforts this season including appearances at Rush Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Hospital, the first Chicago Walk Against AIDS, the NAMES Project Quilt Display at McCormick Place, the 20th Anniversary of Good Shepherd Parish MCC, the Brown Elephant Resale Shop, the Mayor’s Reception For The Holidays at the Art Institute, Not Just Song & Dance, the Mayor’s Inauguration at Navy Pier, and a Unity Church service. The chorus still had time to premiere the commissioned work Tellin’ It On The Mountain by Samuel B. Lancaster at Don We Now XII, conduct five lengthy recording sessions, and perform Let Pride Begin, Let Love Continue in June.
WCGC released its first full-length recording, Don We Now; Holiday Favorites, on November 24, 1991 to critical acclaim, and consequently performed their annual holiday concert Don We Now XIII that received the following reviews, “…every selection exhibiting warmth, delicacy and precision.” (Chicago Sun-Times, 12/23/91), and “One of the finest male choruses in the country.” (Chicago Tribune, 12/19/91). The chorus performed with the Chicago Children’s Choir, with Diane Schuur at the Chicago Theater, and with the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus in Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off before traveling to Denver for GALA Festival IV.
At Don We Now XIV; An American Holiday, Unison: Windy City Lesbian & Gay Singers made its debut performance, and WCGC premiered the commissioned work It Came Upon The Midnight Clear; A Christmas Reverie by Conrad Susa. One reviewer wrote, “…as close to musical perfection as mere human beings can achieve.” (Gay Chicago Magazine, 12/31/92). The chorus traveled to Washington, D.C. the last weekend of April 1993 to participate in an interfaith prayer service at the National Cathedral, to sing with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus and the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C. in Harmonic Convergence, and to perform at the March On Washington rally on the Mall. WCGC returned to Chicago to perform Hidden Legacies by Roger Bourland with the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus and premiere the commissioned work
In The Miracle by Gary Simmons.
On November 17, 1993, Richard Garrin was chosen for induction into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall Of Fame. WCGC presented an encore performance of Hidden Legaices, performed at Northern Illinois University and Western Illinois University, and presented the premiere of the commissioned work Letters To The Future by Roger Bourland. This would be Richard Garrin’s last season with WCPA.
Interim music director Patrick Sinozich led WCGC for this season’s Holiday, Spring, and Pride performances. The Windy City Times wrote about the chorus saying, “This is class.” (12/29/94). WCGC also appeared at FOCUS On The Arts at Highland Park High School. On February 18, 1995, WCPA’s annual gala fundraising event, An Evening of Broadway, debuted to great success.
At the beginning of the season, WCPA selected Welborn E. Young as music director of WCGC. Mr. Young’s first concert, Don We Now XVII drew rave reviews like, “…glorious, precision-honed voices…” (Chicago Sun-Times 12/4/95), and “The production’s most memorable and beautiful element is the singing of the Windy City Gay Chorus…” (Chicago Reader, 12/8/95). Members of WCGC performed from November 22, 1995, through January 14, 1996, on-stage in the morality play Everyman, directed by Frank Galati, at Steppenwolf Theater. The chorus also performed with members of About Face Theatre Collective before traveling to Tampa for GALA Festival V.
WCGC was honored when the ensemble performed by request at the public memorial service of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin on November 18, 1996, at Holy Name Cathedral. The group also performed at the Human Rights Campaign Out-Vote ’96 and returned to Highland Park High School for FOCUS On The Arts. Aria: Windy City Women’s Small Ensemble debuts at Don We Now XVIII.
WCGC kicked off this season to large crowds for Don We Now XIX at the Preston-Bradley Center on the city’s north side to rave reviews. Then it was time to prepare for the exchange concerts with the Indianapolis Men’s Chorus, which achieved “…wicked fun and tight harmonies…” (Gay Chicago Magazine, 4/3/97). WCGC then traveled to Rockford to sing an outreach concert for Charlotte’s Web.
WCPA released its second full-length recording, Glad Tidings We Bring! A Windy City Holiday, on November 13, 1998. WCGC performed at the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt Display at Navy Pier and completed four lengthy recording sessions preparing for the release of WCGC’s 20th anniversary recording, Legacy; 20 Years Of Song With Windy City Gay Chorus. On March 26, 1999, WCGC celebrated 20 years of musical excellence with the premiere of the commissioned work Jonathan And David by composer Eric Lane Barnes at the Athenaeum Theatre.
WCPA moved its performance home for the season to Pick-Staiger Concert Hall on the campus of Northwestern University. WCGC traveled to Davenport, Iowa to perform with Hersong, The Quad Cities Women’s Chorus. The Windy City Slickers released their first full-length recording, Sunday. For Pride 2000, WCGC, Unison, and Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus teamed together at the Skyline Stage at Navy Pier for Pride On The Pier. WCPA’s ensembles later traveled to GALA Festival 2000 in San Jose, California. After completing his doctorate, Dr. Welborn Young accepted a faculty position at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and resigned as music director of WCGC and Unison at the end of the season. Eric Lane Barnes, music director of Windy City Slickers and Aria, was hired as assistant director of the Seattle Men’s Chorus and also resigned.
WCPA began the season with an all-new staff of music directors: Michael Querio for WCGC, Dana Brown for Windy City Slickers, Marion Van Der Loo for Unison, and Michael Wilson for Aria. WCGC performed its first “techno” number at the Pumpkinhead Halloween rave party at Green Dolphin Street on the city’s near north side. The CD WCPA Live! Is released.
In response to audience surveys, WCPA themed its season It’s All About You, featuring audience sing-alongs at Don We Now XXII, Lakeside Pride Brass Ensemble, and audiences’ most-requested songs at the Pride concert You Asked For It! With the departure of the Unison, Slickers, and Aria music directors at the end of the previous season, interim director Michael Wolniakowski led the Slickers, with Unison being led by guest conductors Larry Tradup, Bart Bradfield, and Dr. Welborn Young. Aria was placed on hiatus.
This season saw the WCGC premiere of Oliver Button is a Sissy by Alan Shorter, with Chicago native, actress Felicia Fields as narrator. Unison celebrated its 10th anniversary, with Dr. Wilbert Watkins as the new music director. Gillian Kelly and Claire Bigley stepped in as music co-directors for Windy City Slickers, with outreach gigs at the John Waters Film Festival at the Biograph Theatre and Fireball 2003. WCGC and Unison performed at Sing On…Chicago! in Millennium Park with the Chicago Chamber Choir and Chicago a capella. On September 6, 2003, WCGC and Unison made history by singing the national anthem at the Chicago White Sox game for Out at the Ballgame, becoming the first LGBT choral ensemble to perform at a major sports event in the Midwest and possibly the United States. This was Michael Querio’s last season with WCGC.
WCGC celebrated its 25th Anniversary season with a series of “silver” themed concerts. Silver Bells kicked off the season for Holiday 2003. The spring concert Songs of the Silver Screen was a benefit concert for Center on Halsted/Horizons, with the Joel Hall Dancers, HealthWorks Theatre and Lakeside Pride Symphonic Band as guest performers. The 25th Anniversary concert sported the title Silver Tones and Stuffed Shirts, poking fun at WCGC’s reputation for being the “serious” chorus. Ron Guthrie became WCGC’s fourth music director. WCGC performed at Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus’ Pride concert as guests, along with Schola Cantorosa from Hamburg, Germany. The WCPA ensembles traveled to Montreal, Quebec for GALA Festival VII.
WCGC began the season in September performing in the Redmoon Theater production, Sink, Sank, Sunk at Ping Tom Park in Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood. WCPA’s concert season took on a softer tone, presenting its holiday, spring and pride concerts In Peace, In Love, and In Search, to contrast the perceived harsh and warlike mood of the times. This was Dr. Wilbert Watkins’ last season as music director of Unison.
WCPA released its third holiday CD, A Windy City Holiday. Ron Guthrie became WCPA artistic director and music director of all WCPA ensembles. WCGC and Unison along with nine other GALA member choruses performed Sing for the Cure: A Proclamation of Hope at New York’s famed Carnegie Hall on February 19, 2006. Tret Fure joined WCGC and Unison for the 2006 Pride Concert, Pride in our Feminine Side. As Chicago hosted Gay Games VII, WCGC and Unison served as the host choruses for the choral participants, performing in Soldier Field, Pritzker Pavillion, and Wrigley Field.
This season, the women of Unison voted to reinstate Aria: Windy City Women’s Ensemble, but Slickers, and later Unison, were placed on hiatus. Unison member, Alan Wellman, took the helm as music director for all WCPA ensembles. In Summer 2007, WCPA moved its permanent home to the newly opened Center on Halsted, becoming a resident partner and the first performing arts group to utilize the Hoover-Leppen Theatre for its June pride concert, Pride in Technicolor.
Music That Moves Us was the theme for this season. At the spring concert, An Evening of Choral Masterworks, the combined voices of WCGC and Aria performed Fauré’s Requiem, and WCGC performed Brahm’s Rhapsodie with guest soloist Karen Brunssen. In July, WCGC traveled to Miami for GALA Festival VIII.
WCPA themed its 30th Anniversary season Past Echoes. Future Sounds. WCGC and Aria performed on North Michigan Avenue as the finale of the 2008 Lights Festival, televised on WLS-TV. The ensembles also performed on the WGN Morning News, to promote the holiday concert Don We Now…30! On May 16, 2009, the WCPA ensembles performed at the ribbon-cutting ceremony of the new Modern Art Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago, along with the Chicago Spirituals Gospel Choir and the Chicago Children’s Choir. More than 40 WCGC alumni return to form the 30th Anniversary Reunion Chorus at the anniversary concert on June 13, 2009.