Rochester Gay Men’s Chorus pays tribute to iconic female performers

The Geneseo community was in for a treat when the Rochester Gay Men’s Chorus performed in the MacVittie College Union Ballroom on Monday March 21. The RGMC performed a sample of their larger show “I’m the Greatest Star: The Fabulous Female Singers,” celebrating women such as Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand and Billie Holliday who broke ground in the music industry by overcoming various societal issues. Offering more than what a regular concert usually does, the RGMC’s performance was accompanied by tributes to “fabulous female singers” by artistic director Robert Strauss as a way to honor these women.

Strauss explained that the RGMC chose to put together this set of songs—made famous by iconic women—because it “spoke to us in the LGBTQ+ community and issues we face.” The actions of these women very much reflect the actions of those who pioneered the creation of RGMC in 1982. During the height of the AIDS crisis in America, the RGMC was created by five homosexual men whose desire was to help “make the world a better place for their brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ+ community.”

Now made up of about 50-60 singers, the RGMC is still striving to meet that goal. By performing such songs such as “My Man”—a controversial song that speaks about abuse popularized by Diana Ross—Strauss explained that the RGMC works to “be part of the solution … and part of the conversation” by “tell[ing] a story through song.” This encourages others to do so, as well.

Accompanied by pianist Mark Brennan, the group sang a total of 13 numbers, including hits such as Fitgerald’s “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” a rendition of Judy Garland’s duet with a young Streisand “Happy Days Are Here Again” and “Get Happy” and “Over the Rainbow,” which was first sang by Garland in The Wizard of Oz.

Some of the numbers were particularly meaningful, showcasing the way that these certain female performers broke barriers in their time. One such song was Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues,” which was the first ever song to be recorded by an African-American woman. Bessie Smith was also honored for “I Need A Little Sugar in My Bowl” for its unapologetic demand by a woman to have the same freedoms as men do when it comes to talking openly about sexual desire.

The RGMC praised Barbara Cook as well—who stuck it to the man by renting Carnegie Hall for her own very successful solo concerts when Broadway told her she was too heavy to star on stage—by singing “Here’s To Your Illusions.”

The chorus also chose to give credit to female vocalists from the 1940s big brass bands, which often went unrecognized and unnamed during their time. Strauss explained to the audience that singing “I Had the Craziest Dream” and “And The Angels Sing” was the group’s way of putting emphasis on the vocals and the women who sang them, instead of on the big bands, as is the norm with such songs.

The RGMC will hold another performance on June 18 entitled “Premiere!” This show will feature new theatrical numbers written for the RGMC, as well as other related numbers. Things are being kept under wraps for now in terms of theme, but there’s no doubt this performance will be as charming and inviting as the last.