Founding

The band was founded by Jon Reed Sims in 1978 as the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Marching Band and Twirling Corps. Sims, born in Smith Center, Kansas, was a musician and performer who formed the band in response to Anita Bryant’s anti-gay campaign in the late 1970s. Upon its founding in 1978, it became the first openly-gay musical group in the world. In successive years, Sims created the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco, Lambda Pro Musica orchestra (now defunct), and encouraged the formation of the New York Community Band (now the Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps) and The Great American Yankee Freedom Band of Los Angeles (now the Gay Freedom Band of Los Angeles).

See our past artistic directors

Timeline

View an interactive timeline of our history below. Band-specific events are shown in red, while world LGBT events/milestones are shown in blue. Have a suggested event to add to the band’s timeline? Send an email to archives@sflgfb.org!

December 18, 2018
Band named the “Official Band of San Francisco”

Band named the “Official Band of San Francisco”

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – On this day, Mayor London Breed signed into law an ordinance naming the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band the Official Band of the City and County of San Francisco. The ordinance was sponsored by District 8 supervisor Rafael Mandelman and unanimously approved by the city Board of Supervisors.

 

Along with official colors (black and gold), flower (dahlia), bird (California Quail), song (“San Francisco”), and ballad (“I Left My Heart in San Francisco“), San Francisco now has an official band!

June 24, 2018
San Francisco proclaims official “SFLGFB Day” in honor of Band’s 40th anniversary

San Francisco proclaims official “SFLGFB Day” in honor of Band’s 40th anniversary

SAN FRANCISCO, CA

April 7, 2018
40th anniversary season begins

40th anniversary season begins

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Four decades of life is nothing to scoff at when we never expected to last beyond our first march down Market Street.  We planned a year-long birthday season that included a 40th Anniversary Concert with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus (SFGMC) at the Palace of Fine Arts, a 40th Year Gala Celebration, and a brand new commissioned piece, “1978 March”, featuring songs that we’ve been playing since Year 1.

 

We received many honors this year, but our favorite one has to be being voted the Community Organization Grand Marshal of San Francisco Pride, whose 2018 theme was, fittingly, “Generations of Strength”.

January 21, 2017
Band plays for first Oakland “Women’s March,” and annually since

Band plays for first Oakland “Women’s March,” and annually since

OAKLAND, CA – We have always honored and supported the rights of all persons regardless of identity, be that race, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, and more. It was thus an easy decision to be a part of the first Oakland’s Women’s March by serenading and playing for the marchers as they went by.

 

Not only is the Women’s March now a regular part of our calendar, we also play for marchers at both the Oakland and San Francisco women’s marches.

January 31, 2016
Super Bowl City performance for Super Bowl 50

Super Bowl City performance for Super Bowl 50

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – We are honored to be the first openly gay group that was formally invited to perform as part of Super Bowl activities.

January 12, 2016
Michael Wong named Band’s 1st Artistic Director of the Marching and Pep Program

Michael Wong named Band’s 1st Artistic Director of the Marching and Pep Program

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Given the unique needs of each of our ensembles, the band separated the artistic leadership for the Concert Band from that of the Marching and Pep Bands, naming Michael J. Wong as our 1st Artistic Director for the latter.

 

A member of the band since he was a teenager, Mike has continued to bring musicianship, dedication, leadership, passion, and enthusiasm to his role. He is active in the Bay Area music community, having played with West County Winds, the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony, and U.C. Berkeley Math Orchestra, and more. (Coincidentally, he plays horn in F as many of our Artistic Directors have, including Jon Sims and current Artistic Director of Concert Band, Pete Nowlen.) Read Mike’s bio to learn more about him!

June 26, 2015

Same-sex marriage legalized in U.S. (Obergefell v. Hodges)

WASHINGTON, D.C.

June 20, 2015
Band performs modern premiere of several pieces in honor of 100th anniversary of Panama-Pacific International Exhibition

Band performs modern premiere of several pieces in honor of 100th anniversary of Panama-Pacific International Exhibition

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The band was proud to have our 37th Annual Pride Concert be a part of San Francisco’s centennial celebration of the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition (PPIE).  As part of that concert at the Palace of Fine Arts, we performed modern premiers of Saint-Saën’s “Hail, California” and Corin’s “San Fran Pan American March“, along with other songs in honor of the exhibition. These pieces are captured on our CD, “A San Francisco Affair.”

 

The concert also featured premiere performances by the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco, Bay Area Rainbow Symphony, and Camerata California.

April 25, 2015
SFLGFB performs the modern premiere of Grofé’s “San Francisco Suite”

SFLGFB performs the modern premiere of Grofé’s “San Francisco Suite”

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Ferde Grofé is perhaps best known for arranging Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”, as well as for his original composition “Grand Canyon Suite.” Grofé also wrote numerous other suites inspired by American locales, including Death Valley, Mississippi, Niagara Falls, and San Francisco. The last, “San Francisco Suite” was only performed once at the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. No recording was made–until 2015, when the Band performed its modern concert premiere and committed it to record on our CD, “A San Francisco Affair”. The piece was arranged by long-time band member and librarian Kevin Tam.

 

At this same concert, we performed the world premiere of Victor Herbert’s “Suite of Serenades” and the modern concert premiere of John Philip Sousa’s humoresque, “Among My Souvenirs,” the latter of which is also on our CD.

August 7, 2013
Pete Nowlen named Band’s 11th Artistic Director of the Concert Band

Pete Nowlen named Band’s 11th Artistic Director of the Concert Band

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – After a long search and a series of amazing guest conductors, we were proud to announce Pete Nowlen as our 11th Artistic Director of Concert Band. A talented musician (horn) and conductor, Pete is faculty in the music departments at Sacramento State and UC Davis, and is also active in many amazing musical organizations throughout the California, LGBA, and the worldwide stage. Read his bio to learn more about Pete!

June 28, 2013

Same Sex marriages resume in California

SACRAMENTO, CA – Two days after the Supreme Court declared the the proponents of California’s Proposition 8 lacked legal standing to defend the proposition, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals removed its stay against an earlier ruling that Prop 8 as unconstitutional (Hollingsworth v. Perry), and allowing Governor Jerry Brown to order the resumption of same-sex marriages.

June 26, 2013

Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) declared unconstitutional (United States v. Windsor)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – After being on standby all day, we rushed to the Castro District in San Francisco to join in the celebration for LGBTQ+ rights the evening that the Supreme Court stuck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (United States v. Windsor).  The Court also issued a ruling that would allow California’s Prop 8 to be declared unconstitutional (Hollingsworth v. Perry).

September 21, 2012

Band premieres new arrangements of Sousa’s “The Band Came Back,” Grofé’s “Valley of the Sun Suite”

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – We are proud to support the musical development of our members.  Not only do we provide a venue for our members to play, but we also aim to add to the marching and concert band repertoire by commissioning new works and reviving lost ones, including John Philip Sousa’s “The Band Came Back” and Ferde Grofé’s “The Valley of the Sun Suite,” both arranged by our very own Kevin Tam.

 

While perhaps best known for other works such as “Stars and Stripes Forever” and “The Grand Canyon Suite,” respectively, both composers have oeuvres of considerable depth and potential, especially for concert band.

July 16, 2012

Truvada (PrEP) approved by the FDA for HIV prophylaxis

SILVER SPIRNG, MD

November 11, 2011

Band named “Honorary Lead Contingent” for San Francisco Veterans Day Parade to mark the end of the U.S. Military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy

SAN FRANCISCO, CA

September 24, 2010

Band premieres Jennifer Higdon’s “Freedom Dreams”

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – “Freedom Dreams” was commissioned for the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band as part of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. The piece was was a new overture celebrating families of choice. This was a world premiere performance conducted by then Artistic Director Jadine Louie at the the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’s “Ol’ Fashioned 4th of July Alternative Family Picnic.”

2010

April 7, 2009
Jadine Louie returns as Band’s 10th Artistic Director

Jadine Louie returns as Band’s 10th Artistic Director

SAN FRANCISCO, CA

June 17, 2008

California begins issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples

SACRAMENTO, CA

February 1, 2008
Band reenacts 1978 Pride Parade for the movie “Milk”

Band reenacts 1978 Pride Parade for the movie “Milk”

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Harvey Milk was a trailblazer for LGBTQ+ rights, and we were proud to make our debut at the San Francisco Freedom Day Parade with Supervisor Milk.

 

We were thus honored to be asked to recreate that momentous day for the biopic that would share his story, donning our original uniforms down to the musical stave logo, red visors, woven belts, and Levi jeans–the tighter, the better (or so the costumes department for “Milk” told us).

May 7, 2007
Dr. Roberto-Juan Gonzalez named Band’s 9th Artistic Director

Dr. Roberto-Juan Gonzalez named Band’s 9th Artistic Director

SAN FRANCISCO, CA

June 1, 2004
Band’s new logo debuts

Band’s new logo debuts

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – As technology improved, so too did costs associated with multi-color logos. This meant that the Rainbow Flag, long an important symbol of the queer community, could be incorporated into our logo.

 

Given our diverse and skilled membership, we were able to utilize the talents of band members and graphic designers Marlene Tam (horizontal logo) and Julie Ann Yuen (circle logo) to bring our logo into the 21st century.

February 12, 2004

San Francisco starts issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples

SAN FRANCISCO, CA

January 31, 2004

SFLGFB becomes independent entity

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Jon Sims initially envisioned a single umbrella organization to nurture and support queer arts groups, which was realized in the Golden Gate Band Foundation, which in turn later evolved into the San Francisco Band Foundation and the Jon Sims Center for the Arts.  However, the diverse and unique needs of all the groups became too unwieldy to manage.  Groups slowly became their own independent entity, including the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band.

 

Today we continue to collaborate with many of our sister organizations that continue today, including the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco, City Swing, and Cheer SF.

October 7, 2003

SFLGFB becomes a 501(c)(3) organization

SAN FRANCISCO, CA

June 7, 2003
Band celebrates 25th anniversary

Band celebrates 25th anniversary

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The band’s silver anniversary year took on the theme “The Beat Goes On.”

May 17, 2001

Massachusetts is first state to legalize gay marriage

BOSTON, MA

2000

June 7, 1998
Band celebrates 20th anniversary

Band celebrates 20th anniversary

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The band’s successfully (mostly) navigated its teen years and now is into its more staid twenties! We released a CD, “If They Could See Us Now: 20 years with the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band,”  that served as a musical retrospective on all that the band had accomplished.  Also, Supervisor Tom Ammiano proclaimed us, for the first time, the Official Band of the City and County of San Francisco.

January 1, 1997

Band unifies its ensembles under the name “San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band”

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – With the approach of our 20th Anniversary, we decided to unify our three ensembles (“Winds of Freedom”, “Spirit Band”, and Marching Band) under the name “San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band”.

April 7, 1996
Jadine Louie named band’s 8th Artistic Director

Jadine Louie named band’s 8th Artistic Director

SAN FRANCISCO, CA

March 25, 1996
San Francisco allows domestic partnerships for any two people

San Francisco allows domestic partnerships for any two people

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Ever progressive and a staunch believer in equal rights regardless of identity, San Francisco allowed homosexual or other unmarried couples public recognition through “wedding” ceremonies at City Hall or churches. This ordinance was an extension of the city’s 1991 landmark law allowing homosexual and other unmarried couples to register their partnerships with the city.

 

The band serenaded every couple who walked down the aisle at the Herbst Theatre, and reprised their role two years later at the two year anniversary celebration of the new law.

March 23, 1996
Band Supports opening of Hormel Center at SFPL

Band Supports opening of Hormel Center at SFPL

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Named after the San Francisco community leader and philanthropist, the James C. Hormel Gay and Lesbian Center is the gateway to the San Francisco Public Library’s Gay and Lesbian Collection.

 

The theme of the opening and dedication ceremony was “Into the Light,” after the center’s ceiling mural by Charles Brown and Mark Evans, and also the title of Don Seaver’s fanfare that we performed.

June 30, 1995
Hayward Gay Prom begins

Hayward Gay Prom begins

HAYWARD, CA – The Lambda Youth Project’s Hayward Gay Prom began with the same intent as the band–to provide an alternative and joyful space for the LGBTQ+ community to unapologetically and fearlessly be themselves. The band began to playing for prom-goers not only to welcome them to this high school rite of passage, but also to drown out protestors across the street.

 

We are proud to support the Hayward Gay Prom, especially as Jon Sims founded the band believing that music could put a known face on coming out, where music builds bridges, and where it wouldn’t matter whether you were gay or not.

June 7, 1993
Dyke March begins

Dyke March begins

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The Dyke March is the “one day where dykes can proclaim space, rights, visibility and respect.” Every year, we proudly go to the Castro and play for the brilliant, lively, and powerful marchers, with whom we share a mission of celebrating our community and promoting its visibility.

April 25, 1993
Band participates in 3rd “March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights”

Band participates in 3rd “March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – After participating in the 52nd Presidential Inaugural Parade (as an official invited contingent, 150-musicians strong!), band members were back with their fellow LGBA musicians in Washington for the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay, and Bi-Equal Rights and Liberation.

 

The plans for this third march on Washington took on additional meaning as “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” (DADT) had just been passed, permitting gays to serve in the U.S. military but banning homosexual activity.  President Clinton had originally campaigned on the promise to lift the ban on gays in the military, but facing opposition in Congress, signed DADT instead. Unfortunately, this compromise resulted in the discharge of thousands of uniformed service persons. Musicians from San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band and other LGBA bands responded by being more committed than ever to the march and their “Americans We” concert at Warner Theatre.

January 20, 1993
Band plays at the 52nd Presidential Inauguration for Pres. W. J. Clinton

Band plays at the 52nd Presidential Inauguration for Pres. W. J. Clinton

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Jon Sims’s vision for his fledgling band extended well past the San Francisco city limits, and he dreamed of the day that the Band would play at the Rose Parade or at the White House Rose Garden. We haven’t done either, but we, along with other members from sister LGBA bands (150 musicians in total), were officially invited to play for newly elected President Clinton at his Inaugural Parade.

 

While lunch took forever to arrive (did it ever?) and we were stranded in the cold waiting for the busses to pick us up (they did eventually show up), 1993 looked promising with a new administration and national recognition for both the queer community in general and for LGBA in particular.

 

“We were there when our new President and Vice President walked by and waved especially to us on their way to the White House.  We were there and we were worthy.” – Lisa Strongin, President, LGBA

August 4, 1990
Gay Games III

Gay Games III

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA – These were the first Gay Games held outside San Francisco. Virtually the entire San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Marching Band & Twirling Corps* went on this trip and marched as its own contingent in the Vancouver Pride Parade; musicians from 18 other LGBA member bands formed a separate contingent. Together, all the musicians performed at the Opening Ceremony, the Closing Ceremony, several sporting events, and a huge concert at the Orpheum Theater. We were joined by our sister jazz ensemble, City Swing, who have since performed several times in Vancouver.

 

* At this time, the band had not yet been renamed the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band

January 7, 1990
Nancy Corporon, founder of the NY Gay Band, becomes SF Band’s 7th Artistic Director

Nancy Corporon, founder of the NY Gay Band, becomes SF Band’s 7th Artistic Director

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Nancy’s ties to the band date to before the band’s inception to when she and Jon Sims studied horn together in Chicago. With his unwavering support, she founded what is now the Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps; she in turn was one of his closest friends, advisors, and confidants. During her tenure with the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band, she began the Community Concert Series, a concert that occurred on “every 2nd Tuesday of every 2nd month” and was free to the public.

 

Nancy returned to participate in the band’s 40th Anniversary celebrations, performing in the Jon Sims tribute horn ensemble with three other current and past San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band Artistic Directors, and riding in our San Francisco Pride Parade Grand Marshall convertible along with founding band member Ken Ward.

 

“We are whole whole people who happen to express ourselves and serve our community–and build bridges to the straight community–as musicians.  We’ve shown that a homosexual lifestyle can be about marching bands and concerts in the park and the smiles on the faces of those who listen to us.”
– Nancy Corporon, May 18, 1993

June 1, 1988

Band music note and heart logo (created by John Tomlinson) debuts

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – While Tandy Belew’s original music stave logo design was much beloved, the band commissioned a new logo for our 10th Anniversary. Jon Sims maintained that, “our message is simple–our message is music!”, which a founding band member codified that further by describing the band as “Ambassadors of Joy.”    This new logo encapsulated these ideas, underscoring that band’s mission statement to

 

“provide for the education and musical development of its members, [promote] visibility of [LGBTQ+] communities, and with its allies, [foster] understanding among diverse communities through public performance”.

1990

July 17, 1989

Wayne Love named Band’s interim conductor, later becoming Band’s 6th Artistic Director

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Wayne Love, a prolific concert band composer and arranger, had been a long-time and valuable band member by time he was named interim, then 6th, Artistic Director. The band continues to perform many of his arrangements today, most notably “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”.

January 1, 1989

Concert band renamed “Winds of Freedom”

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The concert band’s birth was due to Jon Sims’ determination to show that a band was capable of creating “serious music.” Given the high visibility of the marching band, the concert band wished to establish itself as distinct and thus rebranded itself as the “Winds of Freedom–the seated version of the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band”, while the pep band used “Spirit Band”. Today, all three ensembles use “San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band.”

December 11, 1988
First Dance-Along Nutcracker with a story, “Television Time”

First Dance-Along Nutcracker with a story, “Television Time”

Every year, our Dance-Along-Nutcracker takes a pop-culture theme and spins the classic “Nutcracker” tale around it. Past iterations have included cowboys, “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, “The Pirates of the Caribbean”, “The Love Boat”, and the “Wizard of Oz”. This first of these elaborate themes began not with the advent of the Dance-Along, but three years later with an “I Love Lucy”/television story.

June 18, 1988
10th Anniversary concert celebration, “Reflections–Encore”

10th Anniversary concert celebration, “Reflections–Encore”

SAN FRANCISCO, CA

March 8, 1988

Jeff Foote named Band’s 5th Artistic Director

SAN FRANCISCO, CA

October 11, 1987

Band participates in 2nd “March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Although it was the second March for LGBTQ rights, this was “The Great March” due to the size, scope, and historical significance it took on. With ACT UP marking their first national convergence, HIV/AIDS activism was center stage.

 

The Band joined fellow musicians from other LGBA bands to participate in the march, which was preceded by a major concert at DAR Constitution Hall the night before.

May 3, 1987

Band makes its debut at San Francisco’s Cinco de Mayo Parade

SAN FRANCISCO, CA

March 20, 1987

AZT approved by the FDA

SILVER SPRING, MD

August 9, 1986
Gay Games II

Gay Games II

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – With the success of Gay Games I in 1982 and the formation of LGBA a few months later, the first official “Team Band” contingent converged in San Francisco for Gay Games II. We (the host band) welcomed fellow musicians from across the country for a series events including the Opening Ceremony at Kezar Stadium, the Closing Ceremony, and a parade through the Castro District. The marquee performance was our circus-themed “With the Greatest of Ease”, an extravagant sold-out concert at Davies Symphony Hall feature trapeze performers, the Tap Troupe, and more.

 

Visiting members of other bands would write warmly of their experiences with the the San Francisco Band at the Gay Games, including one group that finished marching in a parade and ran back to the beginning to march again with much glee and fanfare.

March 31, 1986

Jon Sims Center for the Performing Arts opens

SAN FRANCISCO, CA

January 3, 1986

Jay Kast named Band’s 4th Artistic Director

SAN FRANCISCO, CA

December 21, 1985
Second annual holiday concert and first Dance-Along Nutcracker

Second annual holiday concert and first Dance-Along Nutcracker

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The band’s now annual quirky and only-in-San-Francisco spin on the Nutcracker began as a potpourri Christmas-themed show-cum-fundraiser at the Giftcenter Pavillion hosted by the Widow Norton. Audience members were encouraged to dance along to the holiday music, some of which was provided by the jazz ensemble City Swing in their public debut.

 

The DAN was originally conceived as an adult-oriented show for the local LGBTQ+ community, and has since evolved into the all-family event it is today. The tutu booth, however, has been a staple since 1985. dancealongnutcracker.org

May 16, 1985

San Francisco Bay Area Gay & Lesbian Historical Society forms

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Founded to bring together and continue what had been disparate efforts to preserve LGBTQ+ history, the GLBT Historical Society “collects, preserves, exhibits and makes accessible to the public materials and knowledge to support and promote understanding of LGBTQ history, culture and arts in all their diversity.”

January 15, 1985

City Swing forms under the directorship of Wayne Love

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – A classic big band ensemble, City Swing, accompanied by renown vocalist Gail Wilson, was one of the many musical ensembles that formed under the auspices of Golden Gate Performing Arts, an umbrella organization dedicated to supporting LGBTQ+ performing arts groups. City Swing continues today under the baton of long-time San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band band member Bradley Connlain, and counts amongst their musicians San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band members, including founding band member David Malespin.

July 16, 1984
Band founder Jon Sims dies

Band founder Jon Sims dies

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Jon Sims’ health rapidly fails in the 18 months after he resigns from the band. He is treated at Ward 5B at SF General and later at Pacific Medical Center where, at 37 years old, he becomes the 237th person to die from AIDS. He leaves behind an enormous queer musical legacy consisting of 37 bands, 200 LGBTQ+ chorus, and many more ensembles and performing arts groups.

 

Artists and community members at his memorial service filled Grace Cathedral to the rafters with music, joy, and thanks befitting of his dream that arts be driven by love, sharing, and communication could build a world that puts a known face on coming out, and it wouldn’t matter whether you were gay or not.

June 29, 1984
Hollywood Bowl Fundraiser for AIDS with Rita Moreno

Hollywood Bowl Fundraiser for AIDS with Rita Moreno

LOS ANGELES, CA – The devastation that was AIDS was beginning to sweep through the gay community. The Hollywood Bowl fundraiser was one of the earliest events to raise awareness of AIDS in the greater public, and Rita Moreno the first mainstream star to fearlessly attach her name to this misunderstood disease. Proceeds from the event benefited various LGBTQ+ organizations including the AIDS Project/Los Angeles, The Gay & Lesbian Community Services Center, and the National Gay Archives. This concert also is the first where LGBA bands amass to play as a single band.

 

“I’ve done AIDS benefits…forever.  We did a Hollywood Bowl fundraiser—and what a show! My daughter Fernanda, who was sixteen at the time, danced with me. To show you how early this was, the press showed up and exclaimed, ‘Why are you doing this??!’ The implication being that this could be bad publicity. I answered, ‘Why wouldn’t I?’” – Rita Moreno (AU Magazine, Oct. 2013)

June 24, 1983
Fifth Anniversary concert, “Fives”

Fifth Anniversary concert, “Fives”

SAN FRANCISCO, CA

June 17, 1983

Band’s first out-of-state performance

PORTLAND, OR

November 30, 1982

Jon Sims resigns from Band

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Growing differences in the visions for the band between Jon Sims and the Board of Directors, as well as Jon’s own exhaustion (likely connected to what would later be diagnosed as AIDS), leads to his resignation. By this time he had been working more actively on creating gay and mixed choruses, string ensembles, and other queer musical organizations, as well as an umbrella organization, the Golden Gate Performing Arts, to support these ensembles that both entertained and educated.

November 7, 1982

Band’s debut appearance at the SF Veterans Day Parade

SAN FRANCISCO, CA

October 7, 1982

Lesesne Van Antwerp helps to organize LGBA

The Lesbian and Gay Band Association (LGBA) formed when seven LGBTQ bands, including the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Marching Band & Twirling Corps* (SFGFDMB&TC), came together in Chicago with the intent to promote LGBT Music, Visibility and Pride. There are currently more than 35 members bands spread across the United States and the world.

 

Lesesne Van Antwerp, a close friend of Jon Sims, was the first Artistic Director of the Great American Yankee Freedom Band (Gay Freedom Band of Los Angeles), and was serving as the 3rd Artistic Director of the SFGFDMB&TC when he worked with the other six bands to form LGBA.

 

 * At this time, the band had not yet been renamed the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band

August 28, 1982
Gay Games I

Gay Games I

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Conceived of by Olympic decathlete, Dr. Tom Waddell, the Gay Games‘ mission is “to promote equality through the organization of [this] premiere international LGBT and gay-friendly sports and cultural event.” The first Gay Games were held in Kezar Stadium in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The band, joined by the Great American Yankee Freedom Band (now GFBLA), performed for the Opening Ceremony and other events throughout the games.

 

This joint performance between the SF and LA bands set the stage for the formation of the Lesbian and Gay Band Association (LGBA), and a warm tradition of bands joining together each quadrennial as the “Team Band” contingent to play for the Gay Games. Visiting members of other bands would write warmly of their experiences with the the San Francisco Band at Gay Games, including one group that finished marching in a parade and ran back to the beginning to march again with much glee and fanfare.

August 24, 1982
Lesesne Van Antwerp, the 1st Director of the LA Gay Band, becomes SF Band’s 3rd Artistic Director

Lesesne Van Antwerp, the 1st Director of the LA Gay Band, becomes SF Band’s 3rd Artistic Director

SAN FRANCISCO, CA

April 7, 1982

Tom Smith debuts as Band’s 2nd Artistic Director

SAN FRANCISCO, CA

February 12, 1982

Pep Band formed

SAN FRANCISCO, CA

June 5, 1981

HIV/AIDS recognized by CDC

LOS ANGELES, CA

February 21, 1981
Band jacket becomes part of uniform

Band jacket becomes part of uniform

SAN FRANCISCO, CA

January 27, 1981
Aides-de-Camp formed

Aides-de-Camp formed

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The “Band Aids”, as they were affectionately known, were formed only minutes after the Band became official. There was an immediately recognized need to support marchers through crowd control, carrying the banner, carrying water, and more. They Aides-de-Camp have won awards for their excellence as an honor guard.

 

“belonging to the Aides-de-Camp gives their members a tremendous sense of pride and accomplishment in promoting a positive image of the gay community.” – Jerry Abrams, former Director of the Aides-de-Camp

November 9, 1980
First gay band in a major symphony hall

First gay band in a major symphony hall

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – “Command Performance” at Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall was the first time any gay group performed in a major symphony hall.  (We were also the first group other than the San Francisco Symphony to perform on the stage!)  In fact, after the first show sold out in record time, a second performance on November 11 needed to be added!

April 18, 1980
Debut of the Tap Troupe

Debut of the Tap Troupe

SAN FRANCISCO, CA

January 24, 1980
Lamda Pro Musica, a gay strings group, forms

Lamda Pro Musica, a gay strings group, forms

SAN FRANCISCO, CA

January 23, 1980

First openly gay mixed chorus (now LGCSF) formed

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Jon Sims, fresh with success from the formation of the band and the Gay Men’s Chorus, moved to form a gay mixed chorus.  He brought in the talented Robin Kay and, together, they formed the San Francisco Lesbian and Gay Men’s Community Chorus, the first self-identified mixed chorus.  They would go on and help find the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses.  Today, LGCSF is an important fixture on the San Francisco LGBTQ+ arts scene as they work to “[promote] the work of gay and lesbian composers and [provide] positive examples of LGBT culture”.

January 1, 1980

Band begins to attend the pilgrimage to Emperor Norton’s grave

COLMA, CA – Empress José Sarria, the Widow Norton and founder of the Imperial Court of San Francisco, began an eccentric pilgrimage to her dead husband’s grave (never mind he died over a century earlier) at Woodlawn Cemetery in 1976, and soon invited the band to provide musical accompaniment to the occasion. José was one of the earliest and staunchest allies of the band. He would be instrumental in helping raise money for the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Marching Band & Twirling Corps’s* uniforms and instruments for the band, as well as in organizing community members–including the band, to promote gay rights.

 

* At this time, the band had not yet been renamed the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band

1980

November 12, 1979

First East Bay performance, “Benefit for Pacific Center”

BERKELEY, CA – The band’s first performance in the East Bay was to open Gay Awareness Week at U.C. Berkeley’s Pauley Ballroom.  This concert also benefitted the Pacific Center for Human Growth.

October 14, 1979

First national “March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Galvanized by the murder of Supervisor Harvey Milk, planning for a national march for queer rights took on renewed vigor and meaning, with 1979 chosen as the 10th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Marchers demanded equal civil rights and protective civil rights legislation.

September 24, 1979

New York Gay Community Marching Band (now LGBAC) formed by Nancy Corporon

NEW YORK CITY, NY – Nancy Corporon, a long time friend of Jon Sims, founded the NYGCMB (now the Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps) with encouragement from Jon. Leadership from that band would continue to write to Jon to trade experiences and advice on nurturing their respective bands.  While Nancy would later go on to be the band’s 6th Artistic Director, LGBAC continues to create “The Sound of Love and Joy” today.

September 14, 1979

First band camp at Cazadero Music Camp

SONOMA COUNTY, CA

July 4, 1979

First out-of-town “Straight” parade

REDWOOD CITY, CA – The Band, Guard, and Twirlers perform in their first out-of-town, “straight” parade in Redwood City, CA.  Per band archivist, Quentin, “The crowd’s reaction is mixed.  Quite a change from last Sunday’s [Gay Pride] parade through West Hollywood!”

June 30, 1979
Band, SFGMC participate in LA Pride

Band, SFGMC participate in LA Pride

LOS ANGELES, CA – The Band, along with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, traveled to Los Angeles for their Gay Pride Week.  They “paraded” from Roosevelt Hotel to Hollywood High School for the dress rehearsal of their “Hollywood Concert”, before marching the next day in the Gay Pride Parade.  The City of Los Angeles recognized the band with an official Certificate of Welcome.

June 24, 1979
Band is literal “Poster Child” for 1979 Pride Parade

Band is literal “Poster Child” for 1979 Pride Parade

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The band is only one year old and this is only the band’s second appearance at the parade.

June 10, 1979

First away pride

SANTA CRUZ, CA – The Band and Twirlers march in Santa Cruz at their first out-of-town gay parade.  Local organizers favor the Band with a huge picnic afterwards.

May 22, 1979
Guard division (forerunner of the FLAG Corps) organized

Guard division (forerunner of the FLAG Corps) organized

SAN FRANCISCO, CA

May 22, 1979

Band plays in Castro to help avert second day of White Night Riots

SAN FRANCISCO, CA

February 10, 1979

Band makes its debut appearance at the San Francisco Chinese New Year’s Parade

SAN FRANCISCO, CA

December 20, 1978
First concert, debut of Jon Sims’s lyrics for “If They Could See Me Now”

First concert, debut of Jon Sims’s lyrics for “If They Could See Me Now”

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The Band’s first concert, “Winter Concert & Sing Along”, was dedicated to the memory of Harvey Milk and George Moscone, who were assassinated weeks earlier. Held at San Francisco’s historic Everett Middle School (where the Band continues to perform), the concert served as the formal debut of the Band’s sister organization, the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, as well as the debut for Jon Sims’ rewritten lyrics for “If My Friends Could See Me Now”, from the musical “Sweet Charity”. An excerpt from those lyrics are,

 

“…we’re a source of power they’ll never send back / the closet’s empty now, just like it ought to be…”.

 

This photo shows a handwritten manuscript of these lyrics, along with a note from the Band’s second Archivist, Quentin, stating, “I believe this document to be in Jon’s handwriting, and it may be the only original that is still extant”. Accompanying them is one of the typewritten lyrics sheets that were likely distributed to audience members at that first concert.

November 27, 1978

Assassination of George Moscone, Harvey Milk; Unofficial debut of SFGMC

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – News of the assassinations of George Moscone and Harvey Milk filtered in as the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus was gathering at their fourth ever rehearsal in preparation for their debut concert in December.  The chorus quickly decided to assemble on the steps of City Hall for an impromptu performance to mourn the slain.  It was this night that Holly Near, on the back of a napkin in the back of a taxi on her way to the candlelight vigil, composed, “Singing for Our Lives”, which has since been a staple of the SFGMC’s repertoire.

October 8, 1978
Band’s first non-gay parade, the Columbus Day Parade

Band’s first non-gay parade, the Columbus Day Parade

SAN FRANCISCO, CA

October 1, 1978

Great American Yankee Freedom Band of Los Angeles (now GFBLA) formed

LOS ANGELES, CA – Openly LGBT bands quickly formed after the San Francisco band’s promising beginning. Lesesne Van Antwerp, close friend of Jon Sims, was the first artistic director of the LA band. Their original unwieldy name came about because “gay” wasn’t allowed in organization names–but their identity came through loud and proud thanks to their logo, complete with acronym, emblazoned on the sides of their drums.

September 22, 1978
Band involved in “No on 6” Campaign

Band involved in “No on 6” Campaign

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – Although originally intended to be a one-event-only band, the SFGFDMB&TC found itself in high demand, including as part of musical benefits to rally the community behind the Proposition 6 that sought to ban gays and lesbians from working in California’s public schools.

 

On this date, the Band participated in the second night of “A Little Rights Music”, an effort to raise funds to fight the Briggs Initiative.

 

Photo Credit: Richard Best

June 25, 1978
First pride parade

First pride parade

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The Band debuted in the San Francisco Pride Parade.

June 10, 1978
First rehearsal

First rehearsal

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The Freedom Day parade needed live music.  Or so Jon Sims (and others) thought.  Jon, dissatisfied with his life, figured, why can’t he solve this problem?

 

The result was that over 50 brave souls shuffled into the Trocadero Transfer disco in answer to Jon’s call to, “[p]ut those lips to good use–Get you your old band instrument and start practicing for the Gay Freedom Day Marching Band!”–that is, if they still had an instrument, or even played one.

 

Little did these musicians know that when they signed releases indemnifying the Trocadero, in just a few weeks some of them would pose for this promotional picture, and all would make history turning the corner onto Market Street on June 28.

 

As it was, when they sat down to play a B-flat scale before working through some marches, all that these people wanted was to be a part of a welcoming community.  It’s a community that’s lasted for 40 years and counting.

June 28, 1970

First San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade

SAN FRANCISCO, CA

June 27, 1970

First world gay pride parade

CHICAGO, IL

June 28, 1969

Stonewall Riots

NEW YORK CITY, NY – Queer people were harassed.  Until one day, wrists went limp and the oppressed and their allies began to fight back.  A movement was started.