According to Lakeside Pride Music Ensembles co-founder Mary Wallace, "If music is your thing, you've really got to do it, or else you're miserable."
Lakeside Pride celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2017. The organization boasts about 210 members and consists of several units: the Freedom Band, which marches in local parades; the symphonic band, which usually mounts two concert performances annually; a jazz band; and several smaller ensembles.
The organization unveiled a new logo in conjunction with the milestone, according to Board Chair Bradley Fritz.
"It's kind of a forward-looking time for us, before us, because we are looking ahead to the next 20 years," said Fritz.
The organization was inducted into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Famenow the Chicago LGBT Hall of Famein 2011.
Lakeside Pride was co-founded in 1997 by Wallace and four others: Jon Dallas, David Morck, Robert Schultz III and Rhonda Tullis. The idea originally belonged to Dallas, who was a staff member at BlackLines along with Schultz. Dallas hoped to create a marching band for Black LGBT Chicagoans.
"Prior to moving to Chicago during my career, I spent some time in Nashville and was inspired by the Atlanta Marching Band, who had several Black members from the Mid-South," Dallas recalled. "I spoke with several of them and came up with an idea of an all-Black marching unit."
He made an appeal for members in an interview on the now-defunct LesBiGay Radio program, a broadcast which Wallace happened to hear. Though neither she, Tullis nor Morck are persons of color, Dallas eagerly welcomed their participation. Their first meeting was at the Belmont Avenue Ann Sather on July 8, 1997.
"When I noticed that there was little interesteither because of the comfort factor, limited musicians or other reasons in 1997I thought it best to open the band to everyone since this was an inclusive organization," he said. "Besides, the original members were majority non-Black and it sort of made it useless to hinder a whole group of people when I wanted to project inclusiveness."
Wallace pointed out that most community bands have the advantage of being funded by municipalitiesnot so for Lakeside Pride, whose members at first fronted the cash for rehearsal space and had to scrounge for both instruments and sheet-music. Wallace played an older set of snare drums her father gave her; Morck used a battered tuba he and Tullis spotted in an antique store on Clark Street.
"We would ask ourselves, 'Do we have enough people? Do we sound good enough with so few players?' recalled Tullis. "I remember performing on the front porch of my friend's yard sale."
Their first public official performance took place in front of the same Ann Sather in December, 1997, where they performed Christmas carols. The restaurant provided coffee and cinnamon rolls.
"Four of us performed that day," Tullis said. "We had a film that had a woman walk by twice, covering her ears each time."
Schultz was supposed to be there, but he had his time and location wrong. "There were supposed to be five people there, but there were four," he said. "It was before the days of cellphones. I was sitting in Starbucks, or wherever you went to then, trying to figure out what went wrong."
An early member, Alfredo Gomez, was a member of a previous LGBT marching band that had dissolved and was able to provide that band's leftover music. Dallas made arrangements for the band to rehearse in the Preston Bradley Center in Uptown, which remains Lakeside Pride's unofficial home; they still hold rehearsals and concerts there.
There were some difficult performances at the beginning. At an early concert for the LGBT group at Illinois State University in Bloomington, the 12 musicians who performed outnumbered the nine people in the audience. Their first Chicago Pride Parade appearance, also in 1998, was on the back of a flatbed truck. Schultz called the performance "a glorified drum circle," but Dallas said it was his favorite memory from his time in Lakeside Pride.
"It showed the determination that we had as a group to make this band concept become a reality," Dallas added.
Their first symphonic concert in 1999 was another milestone. Morck recalled, "I had tears in my eyes, so I could hardly see my music. It was just such a feeling of joy, after all that work, being on stage performing."
The group has traveled outside Chicago on multiple occasions, taking part in Pride events in Cincinnati; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Indianapolis; Milwaukee; and Madison, Wisconsin. They performed at the Chicago Gay Games in 2006 and some members took part in the inauguration parades for former President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. They officially became Lakeside Pride Music Ensembles in 2013. Conductors have included Gerald Cole, Tom Kowalcyzk and, presently, Kyle Rhoades.
At the spring 2017 symphonic band concert, there were over 120 musicians onstage.
"The organization has grown to a level we never expected," said Morck. "There was so long when we were five members waiting for a sixth member to walk in."
Note: Reporter Matt Simonette is the partner of Lakeside Pride co-founder David Morck.