The Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus (FTLGMC) had just resumed rehearsals in June before a freak accident left the 35-year-old ensemble’s future in question.
On Saturday, June 19 as the chorus stepped off for the annual Stonewall Pride parade in Wilton Manors, a member driving an accompanying vehicle got his foot caught between the accelerator and brake pedals. The truck plowed through the assembled crowd at high speed and a chorus member, James Fahy, 75, was killed.
Even after the tragedy was revealed to be an accident, members of the chorus and the community were still reeling in shock.
“Every day is getting better,” said FTLGMC founder and artistic director Dr. Gary Keating, who added that the outpouring of support from other LGBT choruses both locally and from around the globe have helped to ease the pain.
Michael Tate, board chair of GALA Choruses, an international organization, took to Facebook: “Our hearts are broken at the loss of life experienced by the Fort Lauderdale chorus family, especially on such a joyous Pride Saturday. On behalf of the GALA Choruses board and staff, I want to offer my deepest condolences to the entire FTLGMC family. We reside in support, love, and community with you during this unbelievably difficult time.”
Members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida and Miami Gay Men’s Chorus also bolstered FTLGMC’s numbers at the celebration of life service for Fahy held on Wednesday, June 30, singing Greg Gilpin’s “Why We Sing,” a selection from a larger work performed by the groups for the 50th anniversary of Stonewall in 2019.
“Years ago, when I started the chorus, in the first three years we lost 31 members of the chorus to HIV and AIDS,” Keating recalled. “We didn’t have another chorus to lean on and we had to hold it together, so it was really nice for my guys to have those men to lean on.”
The FTLGMC’s history has made it resilient, Keating pointed out, and the members intend to sing on – stronger than ever.
“Never, not once, not once,” did the chorus consider folding in the weeks since the accident, Keating said. “The minute I had to sit down and think about this and the incredible amount of support that came pouring in, they told me to come back to the music. We will heal.”
This week, FTLGMC once again resumed rehearsals and plans to perform a previously scheduled concert on September 18. The concert will be dedicated to Fahy and Keating promised a program that would be “uplifting…but I had planned that anyways,” hoping to signal to pandemic-weary audiences that arts would rebound.
Keating will premiere new a cappella arrangements of “Wind Beneath My Wings” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” as well as bring back a chorus favorite, selections from the Broadway musical “Kinky Boots.”
“We have a reason to come back together,” Keating said.
Days after the accident, Chorus member Tom Cusack summed up the feelings of many in the chorus, “We want to come back and sing to show we can overcome anything and honor Jim by singing again. He will always be in our memory. We can’t stop.”
The Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus will present its fall concert on Saturday, September 18 at a venue to be announced. For tickets and more information, go to FTLGMC.org.