Two Men’s Choruses Unite to Celebrate Harvey Milk

Bradley Osborn | Camp

On the last weekend in March, Kansas City’s Heartland Men’s Chorus and Gateway Men’s Chorus of St. Louis will combine their voices to perform the Midwest premiere of the oratorio I Am Harvey Milk. Part choral performance and part theater, the piece celebrates Milk’s life, from his childhood to his public career in San Francisco to his assassination.

A preview concert was held in Columbia, Mo., on March 8, and an encore concert is scheduled for April 5 in St. Louis. San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus artistic director and conductor Tim Seelig, who conducted the June 2013 world premiere in San Francisco , will conduct the Missouri performances. The Kansas City concerts will be at 8 p.m. March 29 and 4 p.m. March 30 at the Folly Theater.

I Am Harvey Milk, with music and words by Andrew Lippa, was co-commissioned by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, along with Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus, Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus, Vancouver Men’s Chorus and Heartland Men’s Chorus.

The newly formed San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus was scheduled to rehearse on the evening of Nov. 27, 1978, the day that San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated. Instead, members gathered on the steps of City Hall. There, during an impromptu vigil for the fallen leaders, the group’s blended voices were first heard in public.

For the Missouri performances, Tom Lancaster of Heartland Men’s Chorus will play the adult Harvey Milk. He said his appreciation of Milk’s work grew throughout the project:

I don’t have any personal memories of Harvey Milk. I was only 9 years old when he was assassinated. But I have vivid memories of Anita Bryant and her Save Our Children campaign, which fought so bitterly against the gay rights movement. I remember seeing her interviewed on television and seeing my parents nodding their heads in agreement with what she said. I learned later that Save Our Children helped introduce Proposition 6 in California, the proposed law that would make firing gay public school employees mandatory. The proposition failed, largely due to the work of Harvey Milk. It was his first major political victory.

I’ve learned a lot about Harvey while doing research — most striking was his connection to music. He loved opera from the time he was a child, and in the early 1970s he assisted the director of “Jesus Christ Superstar” on Broadway. I love that we’re telling his story in a medium that resonated with him.

I hope audiences respond to the piece the way I did when I first heard it. It’s so easy to become complacent — to become apathetic about the struggles we still face. Experiencing Harvey’s story told in this music sparked a fire in me — I wanted to get up and march in protest, I wanted to write my congressman, I wanted to make my voice heard as a member of the LGBT community. It helped me connect to a passion that had dulled over the years. I hope everyone who experiences the concert will react as passionately.

To learn more about the composition, go to I Am Harvey Milk

Just Before the Concert, a Chance to Hear About 1970s Gay K.C.

If you like local history, you should arrive early to one of the Heartland Men’s Chorus concerts in late March. Thirty minutes before each show, Stuart Hinds, co-founder of the Gay & Lesbian Archive of Mid-America (GLAMA), will present “An Emerging Community: Gay Kansas City in the ’70s” to warm up audiences for the main performance of I Am Harvey Milk.

HMC asked Hinds to discuss Kansas City during the time of Milk’s rise as a politician in San Francisco.

“It’s a really interesting period, with the emergence and disappearance of several advocacy groups and community efforts, lots of bars opening and closing, interesting developments in the world of female impersonation, founding of the lesbian and gay amateur sports league and the first Pride celebrations,” Hinds said.

Hinds’ presentations will be at 7:30 p.m. March 29 and at 3:30 p.m. March 30 at the Folly Theater.

Now almost four years old, GLAMA is a partnership between the Kansas City Museum and the LaBudde Special Collections of the Miller Nichols Library at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Its mission is to collect, preserve and make accessible materials documenting the LGBT community of Kansas City.

In April, two GLAMA-related conference appearances are on the calendar. A UMKC history graduate student will present his GLAMA-based research on the Phoenix Society for Individual Freedom at the Missouri Conference on History in Jefferson City, Mo. And Hinds will sit on a panel at the Midwest Archives Conference in Kansas City, Mo. The focus of the panel will be the different approaches that Missouri’s three LGBT archives – in Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield — take to developing their collections.

Archive’s new acquisitions

The archive contains historical images, periodicals, oral histories, local LGBT history overviews and a growing number of donated personal collections. Here are some of the latest acquisitions, with descriptions from Hinds:

Linda Wilson Collection — Longtime Willow Productions producer extraordinaire Linda Wilson turned over to GLAMA drawers full of material related to Willow, including the many performers who came to Kansas City, audio and video recordings from concerts, and much more. In addition, the collection features papers related to the founding and operation of Womontown, a lesbian enclave located in midtown Kansas City that was founded by Wilson’s partner, Barbara Lea.

Wick Thomas Collection — Activist Wick Thomas recently donated a group of items related to the queer youth group EQUAL, fliers from the local trans community, and promotional material highlighting Kansas City “homo-core” rock bands.

Dean Galloway Collection — These materials come from Kansas City’s leather community and include paperwork from the Mr. Dixie Belle and Heart of America Leatherboy contests from the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Martin Shapiro Collection — A small but very rare collection of newsletters and other papers from Kansas City-based advocacy groups in the 1970s.

For more information on the Gay & Lesbian Archive of Mid-America, go to There you can browse its contents and perhaps consider making your own contribution.

“An Emerging Community: Gay Kansas City in the ’70s”
This presentation by Stuart Hinds of the Gay & Lesbian Archive of Mid-America will precede each concert.
7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 29 & 3:30 p.m. Sunday, March 30
Folly Theater, 300 W. 12th St., Kansas City, Mo.

I Am Harvey Milk 
The concert will feature Kansas City’s Heartland Men’s Chorus and Gateway Men’s Chorus of St. Louis.
8 p.m. Saturday, March 29 & 4 p.m. Sunday, March 30
Folly Theater, 300 W. 12th St., Kansas City, Mo.
For tickets, go to HMCKC. Prices vary.