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Atlanta Gay Men's Chorus
The Atlanta Gay Men's Chorus will perform its annual “Don We Now Our Gay Apparel” concert December 3 and 4.

Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus celebrates its 40th anniversary with holiday concert

This is something to take note of: A gay chorus in the Deep South is “a big f***ing deal.” This, from Jeffrey McIntyre, who founded the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus in 1981. 

Donald Milton III, the current artistic director of the organization, concurs. “I’ve heard how important it is to see over 100 men, gay, bi, trans, and straight allies all standing proudly and unapologetically on stage,” he says. “Not only is the music incredible, the representation is deeply meaningful to the LGBTQ+ community and to Atlanta as a whole.”

Donald Milton III
Donald Milton III, the group’s artistic director, says he wants the music to inspire dialogue and promote social equity.

It’s been that way for years; 40, in fact. The organization is celebrating its 40th anniversary this season, starting with holiday shows in December. Expect halls to be decked. Expect heartstrings to be tugged. Expect tuxedoed men in ruby vests. Rubies, after all, are for 40th anniversaries. Expect puppets. If anything, when the chorus puts on a show, they make sure that the show is a big f***ing deal.

It was 1981. It was a time when the gay rights movement was just gaining momentum. It was that year, in fact, that the first cases of AIDS were being reported. It was the first time McIntyre and 45 brave singers came together to form the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus. The ensemble grew, evolved and flourished. They performed with such luminaries as Leslie Jordan and Maya Angelou and with such organizations as The Atlanta Opera, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Atlanta Ballet. The ensemble grew more, evolved more and flourished more. They performed for the victims of 9/11 and those affected by Hurricane Katrina. They’ve performed for the Elton John AIDS Foundation and Toys for Tots, among many others.

By 2012 the Chorus formed Voices of Note, an umbrella organization that would fold in the Atlanta Women’s Chorus to join them. The two choruses now comprise the largest community music organization in the Southeast.

Milton became artistic director in 2018. Having loved choral music for as long as he could remember, he sang with the University of Michigan’s Men’s Glee Club, one of the oldest men’s choruses in the country. “It was a formative time for me as a person and as a musician,” he says. Moving to Atlanta to join the chorus was a great fit for him. “It was the right combination of focused musical work and joyful exuberance. We were going to create some special things together.”

It’s been special, but not without its challenges. “Our message of love and acceptance is good for everyone, even those who need to have a change of heart,” Milton says. Both choruses have had threats of violence. Homophobia still very much exists. “We don’t bow to those who hate and fear people who are different from them.”

They get on stage. They spread love. “I honestly believe,” Milton says, “that singing together in a group is one of the most meaningful things you can do in life.”

All the better in ruby vests with fun puppets nearby. Milton promises big celebrations with the coming holiday shows. On December 3 and 4, the annual holiday concert by the male chorus will be at the Cathedral of St. Philip in Buckhead. It has been a tradition there for 25 years. On December 18, at the Morningside Presbyterian Church, the women’s chorus will perform “Remembrance and Joy,” a concert dedicated to those lives lost the last two years due to Covid and social injustice. The highlight of the evening will be a performance of Gabriel Faure’s stirring Requiem.

The Atlanta Gay Men's Chorus
The chorus performed virtually during the pandemic and looks forward to being in front of live audiences again. (Photo by Dan Lax)

Last season, through the pandemic, concerts were entirely virtual. Milton is glad that that season has passed. “We created some very meaningful art and our audience was there for us, but it wasn’t the same,” he says.

He wants to reconnect with their existing audience while trying to go beyond the local LGBTQ+ community. “We want to draw the circle wider,” he says. He wants to expand who they perform for and who they perform with. He wants to “keep digging into our mission to inspire dialogue and promote social equity through our musical excellence.”

With that said, Milton already has eyes on the next 40 years. “Live music is life-giving, for performers and audiences alike,” he says. “I know that I’m a better, more empathetic, more understanding human because I make music with other people.”

The organization continues to grow, evolve and flourish. The circle widens as they sing full-throated and ruby bright.


Jonathan Shipley is a freelance writer based in Hapeville. His writing has appeared in such publications as the Los Angeles Times, National Parks Magazine and Earth Island Journal.