Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus celebrating 40th anniversary with in-person holiday concert

The Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus will perform at the Cathedral of St. Philip Dec. 3-4.

Courtesy of Donald Milton III

It’s the Ruby Anniversary of the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus, marking 40 years of joyful service in music-making, gay pride and social progress. Their 40th-anniversary holiday concert takes place at the Cathedral of St. Philip in Buckhead. To celebrate, the chorus is ringing in the holiday spirit with three performances of festive music on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 3-4. The chorus’s artistic director Don Milton joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes to talk about the significance of this year’s celebration.

The group’s holiday shows also mark their long-awaited return to performing with a live audience. “It’s hard to put into words how excited we are,” said Milton. “We have been working so hard, and you know, it would make sense if there had been a step back musically for a group that hadn’t rehearsed in person for a year and a half. But it’s been the opposite; the guys are so hungry to make music together that it really sounds very special, and in rehearsal, there’s this beautiful focus and excitement. And we can’t wait to get back in the cathedral.”

After a season of rehearsing in a parking lot to keep each other safe, it’s no surprise the singers are thrilled to return to their traditional stage at St. Philip’s. However, safety still remains a top priority, and Milton shared the standards the holiday concerts will observe. “The week of the show, every guy in the chorus will get a PCR test and then a rapid test every single day, which will allow us to sing without masks on,” he said. “But our audience is going to be 100% vaccinated and wear masks. So it’s a safe event to attend. If you haven’t left the house for a musical event in quite a long time, this could be a very safe one.”

The holiday season’s programming will include tales from the chorus’s founding and legacy. The Atlanta group originated in 1981 when the pioneering San Francisco chorus inspired Atlanta chorus founder Jeffrey McIntyre.

“The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus began at rallies after Harvey Milk was assassinated,” said Milton. “At these rallies, there was a lot of singing, and that transformed into the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, and Jeffrey was inspired by that and began the Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus here in the Deep South, 40 years ago.” He continued, “It’s a big deal that this group has been around for such a long time, and to hear the stories of what all these men went through … this was at the height of the AIDS epidemic, and they were losing several members every year. It was a very heavy time, but also a time full of perseverance and courage and bravery, and we stand on their shoulders.”

One of the jewels of this year’s repertoire is “Ave Maria” composed by Franz Beibl, which Milton argued is one of the most beautiful pieces of choral music ever written. “It is just a spectacular, perfect piece of choral music … We’re singing it this year to commemorate those who have passed away over the last 40 years, singers in this ensemble,” Milton said. “I’ll tell you, it might be the most beautiful thing you hear this whole holiday season.”

However, the singers offer a side of comic relief with their angelic odes. Their “Holiday Lament” decries the dreaded gift of a holiday fruitcake and declares, “Nobody likes a fruitcake,” but as Milton noted, “It’s sung by three fruitcakes.” He added, “Not every chorus can do really, really beautiful, and really, really funny, and this chorus does ‘schtick’ so well.”

“The Atlanta Gay Men’sChorus 40th Anniversary Holiday Concert” is at the Cathedral of St. Philip Dec. 3-4. More information and tickets are available at