In the late 1980s, founding director Bob Phibbs sought to create a place where music was used as a vehicle to remind us all that we are more alike than different. Having previously served as the director of the Long Beach Gay Men’s Chorus, Phibbs and some friends began recruiting people who simply enjoyed singing and socializing together. The foundational vision for the Chorale referred not only to the LGBTQ communities, but the straight community as well, creating an organizaiton that was inclusive and welcoming of everyone. The music is what brought people together and in April of 1990, a small group of singers gathered for their very first rehearsal as the South Coast Chorale.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, gay and lesbian choruses were forming all over the country. The LGBTQ choral movement was reaching new heights and the South Coast Chorale had joined in, head first. It was a place where members could feel accepted, included and equal. A place where they could be who they are, build connections, safely discover or display their identity and unite in common causes through song.
The chorale’s inaugural concert titled Coloring Outside the Lines was held on September 16th, 1990 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Long Beach.
Founded shortly after the height of the AIDS crisis, members of SCC recognized the need for continued education, recognition, encouragement and healing. Communities were turning to their LGBTQ choruses as a way to escape, cope and support, so for over a decade the South Coast Chorale presented annual AIDS remembrance concerts that provided a musical voice to the struggle of those affected by HIV & AIDS.
In December of 1993, the Chorale was the first group to perform in the newly-built Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center with their fourth annual holiday concert, Don We Now…, accompanied by a 16-piece orchestra. The Carpenter Center was so new that stage curtains had to be rented because they hadn’t arrived and the Center’s Executive Director was vacuuming the carpet because they hadn’t yet hired a janitor.
Over the years, the Chorale has established a reputation of performances that are distinguished for their diversity and artistic excellence, receiving community nominations and audience praise. From traditional choral concerts to youth-focused educational outreach, premieres of new works to original musical parodies, the chorale’s performances have told many a story. Stories of ordinary people celebrating love, of actual chorale members embracing their identity, of leaders paving the way or significant events that have helped shape a shared narrative.
Public understanding of gay life has evolved quite a bit since 1990, but there is still a long road to lasting change for LGBTQ equality. SCC has more than doubled in size to nearly 60 singing members and expanded artistic programming to include more new works and commissions that seek to highlight the interconnectivity between communal entities. Chorale members participate in close to 10,000 volunteer hours annually, further enhancing a commitment to community partnership and building bridges.