Ted Waddell | Democrat
VAN MORROW OF Livingston Manor, above, and his partner Bruce Shenton, below, will join the Lesbian and Gay Band Association’s 177-piece marching band during Tuesday’s Inaugural Parade.
'Gig of the Century'
By Ted Waddell
LIVINGSTON MANOR A couple of local gay musicians will be making history on January 20 as they join the Lesbian and Gay Band Association’s 177-piece marching band on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. during President-Elect Barack Obama’s Inaugural Parade.
For the first time in the nation’s history, the parade will feature a lesbian and gay marching band honoring the momentous inaugural event, both as a symbol of change and acceptance.
The LGBA was founded in Chicago in 1982 from seven bands, and over the years has grown to 34 member organizations from across the United States, Canada and Australia.
Van Morrow and Bruce Shenton, his partner of 20-some years, are members of the Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps of NYC, founded in 1979. Morrow served as its president in 1987.
When former President Bill Clinton was first inaugurated in 1993, the LGBA performed from the sidelines, receiving a well-documented “thumbs up” from the country’s 42nd president, and again during his second inaugural ceremonies.
“I am honored to invite these talented groups and individuals to participate in the Inaugural Parade,” Obama said in a recent news release. “These organizations embody the best of our nation’s history, diversity, and commitment to service. Vice President-elect Biden and I are proud to have them join us in the parade.”
Days after the announcement that the inaugural parade would include the first-ever gay contingent in the line of march, the Associated Press reported that Obama named Nancy Sutley, his first openly gay senior administrative staffer, to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Morrow, who runs a word processing/desktop publishing company he established in the Big Apple in 1985, plays the baritone saxophone, while Shenton performs on a tenor trombone. They moved to Livingston Manor as full-time residents in 2003, and two years prior to that Morrow was instrumental in organizing The MountainTones Community Band, a brass/woodwinds/percussion group that has marched down main street during Manor’s annual Trout Parade and at other occasions.
“I started taking saxophone lessons when I was nine years old,” said Morrow, who said of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender band’s role in breaking down stereotypes, “I would like to see a time when there are not so many social divisions… but they certainly exist.”
The local musicians received the good news via a series of emails that the LGBA had been selected from among almost 1,400 marching bands, drill teams and musical groups who applied to participate in the inaugural parade.
After background checks by the U.S. Secret Service, band members are headed to D.C. for three rehearsals, as they gear up to don their distinctive uniforms, and prepare themselves to spend hours in what could be chilly Capital weather, stepping off for a 1.6-mile journey along Pennsylvania Avenue.
“After hearing the news, I was amazed at how emotional I had become to be in the parade, and to be in it with Bruce,” said Morrow in their kitchen one recent morning over a cup of coffee, with their cat named Mitzvah prowling on top of the table.
“Bruce was in every single Gay Pride March right from day one, and he’s been a gay rights activist from before Stonewall. In the 1950s, he saw his friends’ names printed in the papers, and they lost their jobs… for nothing more than their sexual orientation.”
Before leaving for D.C., Morrow and Shenton are headed down to NYC for a preliminary rehearsal with the 40 members of the Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps who will participate on Jan. 20.
“Everyone wants the most flawless marching band performance,” added Morrow. “The sense I’m getting from everyone who is marching, is that there will be no nonsense at these rehearsals.”
In the past, Morrow and Shenton performed on a football field during opening ceremonies of the Gay Games in San Francisco, on a cruise ship off Fort Lauderdale at a convention called “Showboat,” and during the 2008 Halloween Parade in NYC.
A few years ago, they played at Constitution Hall in D.C., but ran into a snafu on the night of the show when the house staff didn’t show up for work after they got wind a gay band was performing.
“It was a very ugly thing,” recalled Morrow, noting that in the best traditions of the arts, the show went on despite a delay.
As a case of history repeating itself, back in 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) nixed Marian Anderson’s singing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall. In the ensuing furor, thousands of DAR members including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned, but after the Roosevelts and others including the executive secretary of the NAACP got involved, Anderson performed an open air concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before a crowd of 75,000 while millions of people listened over national radio.
Morrow said that while marching in the Gay Pride March, religious hecklers in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral often make their opposition known to other than “straight” life styles, but the band frequently responds by just looking the other way.
“For someone who likes marching bands, I can’t think of a bigger gig,” said Morrow of the upcoming LGBA musical jaunt down Pennsylvania Avenue.
“For us, I’ve been calling it the ‘Gig of the Century.’”