The attention our upcoming concert is receiving is amazing. LUSH LIFE has been the subject of three interviews on local jazz stations, highlighted in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, a daily public service announcement on public radio, and the headline event for the current issue of an online jazz newsletter. It is also featured in the National Black Arts Festival program book, now available around town, and we’re told that tomorrow it is featured in WABE’s City Cafe with John Lemley. In addition to local press, we have garnered the attention of jazz aficionados from as far away as Amsterdam.
But most important to me is the fact that Billy Strayhorn’s family will be joining us. Larry Strayhorn, Billy’s nephew, and eight other family members arrive on Friday for the weekend. Not only have they been generous to allow us to perform this music, they are coming to Atlanta from all over the country at their own expense.
I’m beginning to believe this is a big deal.
I know it is historic. Billy’s music has been honored by gay choruses in the past, but not in collaboration with an established jazz band and not in partnership with an event like the National Black Arts Festival. Add to that the fact that we have three tremendous guest artists, one of whom is premiering five new monologues that give us a glimpse into the life of this great composer.
As we count down the final days before our one-night-only event, I am thrilled to say that the extended efforts of the AGMC for this event have paid off. What people will hear in Symphony Hall on Saturday evening will be unmatched for many.
Yet, amidst all our celebrating, we remain shocked and saddened by the sudden death of long-time chorus member and AGMC production manager Mark McManus. Mark left us two weeks ago, just as he was entering the homestretch of bringing our stage plan together. If he’d been given some magical choice, I’ve no doubt he would have asked for a stay so he could finish his work — but not for himself or the recognition it would bring him, but so that none of his brothers would be inconvenienced or their spirits dampened.
Mark, if you can somehow read this from where you are, please know that it’s tough here, but we’re going to be okay. No one will ever replace you — it will take ten people to continue to do all that you have done for us — but we are forging ahead and are dedicating this performance to you. What you stood for and the generosity of spirit that graced every good deed you performed will be with us on stage.
Better yet, we will feel as though we’re standing on your shoulders.
Thank you, Billy and Mark for being sources of great inspiration for so many gay men and for giving us more reasons to celebrate and sing.