Voices of Note, made up of the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus and the Atlanta Women’s Chorus, has been changing hearts and minds through music since 1981. Launched when the gay rights movement just started to gain momentum, Voices of Note shares the voices, talents, and stories of LGBTQ Atlanta. In their upcoming concert, I See You, the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus will share the story of the most significant moment in LGBTQ history: The Stonewall raids of 1969. We talked to Voices of Note executive director Eve Campbell about what fans can expect from the concert, the importance of remembering Stonewall, and the power of music in spreading the message of love and acceptance.
The I See You tribute concert tells the story of LGBTQ liberation from its inception on that fateful day in 1969. Campbell told the Georgia Voice that fans can expect to not only hear great music but also be reminded of the weighty importance of the work done by past LGBTQ activists.
“Expect to be both reminded about what started the gay rights movement and hear the music that supported many calls to action from that period,” Campbell said. “We hope people will feel pride, remember, and be both grateful for how far we’ve come and recognize that much more work still needs to be done.”
For Campbell, remembering Stonewall and recognizing the impact it’s had not only nationally, but locally as well, is of the utmost importance. “If we fail to learn from the past, it is inevitable that we will repeat the actions,” she said. “To express remembrance and gratitude for the individuals who finally said, ‘Stop!’ is a way to never forget.” Without these individuals, Campbell says Atlanta would be completely different. “Atlanta’s rainbow crosswalk, storytelling at City Hall by a local drag queen, an LGBTQ reception sanctioned by Mayor Bottoms, the ability to marry and the freedom to walk hand-in-hand are just a few commonplace events that would not be ours without the events at Stonewall in 1969,” she said. “We are so grateful.”
For Bill Paden, a long-standing member of the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus, the difference between the chorus, as well as the world, between when he joined in 1989 — already twenty years after Stonewall — and now is like night and day.
“In my early years with the chorus, the AIDS crisis was at its worst and many friends’, loved ones’, and chorus members’ lives were cut drastically short,” he recalled, remembering the memorial services and funerals the chorus performed at to honor members. “The chorus was small when I joined and presently there are about four times as many members. Obviously issues and messages changed over the years and the chorus sang about them.”
“Personally, the possibility of legally marrying a member of the same sex was not even in the realm of possibilities for me at that time,” Paden continued. “Public displays of affection between persons of the same sex such as hand holding (much less kissing in public) were quite risky in many places and the LGBTQ community was not considered part of mainstream society much less embraced by it.”
The progress made because of organizers, protestors, and groups like Voices of Note since Stonewall in the ’60s and the AIDS crisis of the ’80s makes Paden hopeful for the future. “Fortunately, today the world is more accepting, and members of our community can express themselves much more freely than was every possible in the early ‘80s and before,” he said. “Hopefully, progress will continue to be made and one’s sexuality will become a non-issue in their acceptance and treatment by society.”
As for the kind of music the audience can expect to see the choir members perform, Campbell says they will “cover a wide range of emotions that accompanied the birth of the LGBTQ liberation movement.” Voices of Note will be performing songs like Holly Near’s anthem “We Are a Gentle Angry People,” Paul Simon’s “Bride Over Troubled Waters,” “I Am What I Am” from La Cage aux Folles, and “Sticks and Stones” from I Am Harvey Milk.
“The ’60s was an amazing time of protest, change, and involvement,” says Campbell, and the music of the time reflects that. Campbell noted the power of music to share the messages of resistance and change from the Stonewall-era gay liberation movement in a way that speech alone can’t. “We can say things and present issues through music that are much more difficult to discuss one on one,” she said. “Music has a way of evoking feelings that can truly open a heart to experience change.
Music has also been Voices of Note’s tool to reaching out both to Atlanta’s LGBTQ community and those who may be ignorant to their struggles and oppression. “With music it is possible [for Voices of Note] to reach people who might not turn out to an LGBTQ community event but may see and hear us in a collaborative performance or in a community outreach concert,” Campbell said. “We make LGBTQ easy to access for Atlanta audiences.”
I See You: 50 Years After Stonewall will be held on June 22, with shows at 3pm and 8pm, at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. You can learn more and buy tickets at VoicesOfNote.org.