Gay men’s chorus provides safe space for making music
By Jessica Laskey
In 1984, a group of singers formed the Sacramento Gay Men’s Chorus to provide a safe place for gay men to meet and make music as the AIDS epidemic began to rage.
That same year, Lynda Walls was in Washington state managing and promoting bands at the start of the grunge movement, while “doing everything from stuffing envelopes to organizing marches” as an AIDS-awareness activist.
Little did Walls know that decades later, she would become executive director of the chorus that provides a voice—in more ways than one—for more than 100 LGBTQ residents of the Sacramento area.
“I’ve always loved music,” says Walls, who describes her hometown in southwest Washington as a hotbed for new music in the early 1980s and 1990s. “I don’t have much musical talent myself, but I have appreciation.” Walls sang in the chorus from elementary through high school, which gave her a love and understanding of music—and a career trajectory.
There wasn’t much to do where Walls grew up, so many of her friends formed bands and tapped Walls’ organizational skills to manage the groups and find gigs. When it was time for college, Walls decided to study performance arts management, marketing, and audio and video production at Evergreen State College in Olympia. This led to years of working as an independent band manager, promoter and producer for clubs and small studios in Olympia and Seattle.
When Walls’ best friend died of AIDS in 1997, she couldn’t bear the idea of staying in the area. She took a job with a college friend in Sacramento, photographing golf courses. She moved on to marketing and, in 2001, started the next phase of her career: nonprofit management. In 2012, she earned a master’s degree in public administration.
Over the past 20 years, Walls served at various nonprofits and on several boards, including president of the Old City Cemetery Committee and Sacramento Area Museums. When a friend asked her to join the board of the Sacramento Gay Men’s Chorus, she jumped at the chance to unite her love of music and activism.
Less than a year later, the group’s executive director moved away and Walls was asked to apply for the job. She took the helm in November 2019—months before the pandemic hit.
“It’s been challenging for all of us,” Walls says. “Our main revenue stream is performances and we couldn’t do that. The main bonding activity for the singers is singing together and we couldn’t do that. The chorus is really like a family. I know people say that all the time, but we really are.
“The members rallied around the people who got COVID (from outside exposures), delivering meals to them during quarantine, running errands, driving them to doctor appointments. Some of our members even started a fund to help people who got sick to pay expenses. Everybody really takes care of each other.”
The chorus was forced to lay off all staff other than Walls and applied for every dollar of assistance to stay afloat. Luckily, the group hung on long enough for vaccines to roll out and restrictions to ease. Now the chorus is back in the rehearsal room, fully vaccinated and masked, preparing for annual holiday concerts.
“We’re pretty confident we can do most of the things we’re used to doing,” Walls says, which includes the holiday show in December, a fundraiser in February and spring show in June, all under the direction of new Artistic Director Christian Bohm. “We’re ready to hit the ground running.”
“KSGMC 202.1FM: Holiday Hits with A Splash of Sass!” runs Dec. 10, 11, 12 and 14 at Pioneer Congregational Church, 2700 L St. For tickets and more information, visit sacgaymenschorus.org.
Jessica Laskey can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.