by Bob McCranie, TCC Archivist, February 2012
The Turtle Creek Chorale was conceived of by Don Essmiller, the late Rodger M. Wilson, and Phil Gerber. They advertised for interested parties to join a “gay” choir. Their first meeting was in the choir loft of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Oak Lawn, where Don Essmiller was the organist. Within a few weeks, thirty-eight men organized themselves into a chorus. They incorporated the chorale on April 23, 1980. A few months later, on Tuesday, June 24, the Turtle Creek Chorale made its formal concert debut at the Owens Fine Arts Center at Caruth Auditorium.
The Chorale has been performing continuously since 1980. This history includes two European tours, thirty-two albums, and three American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) performances. The chorale has performed with stars like Betty Buckley, Angela Lansbury, Carol Channing, Jennifer Holliday, Tom Wopat, Michael Feinstein, Margaret Cho, and Joan Rivers. Two Emmy Award Winning PBS specials have been produced about the Turtle Creek Choral. After Goodbye: An AIDS Story and The Power of Harmony.
Since 1980, over 2,000 men have been members of the organization. Some members have been with TCC since the first season. Membership is open to both singing and non-singing members.
Any history of the Turtle Creek Chorale would be incomplete without mentioning the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS in the gay community during the late ‘80s and early ‘90’s. Nearly 200 members of the Chorale have been lost to the pandemic. During that time it was not uncommon to have two or three funerals a month – sometimes several the same week.
Many feel that this crucible is responsible for making the Chorale the uniquely supporting organization that it is today. No one can reduce to words the support, protection, and re-assurance that the men of the TCC provide for each other. It is truly a family in every sense of the word. The loss that defined the Chorale in the horrible decade also solidified its members – new and existing members alike. Many say that they personally never experienced an organization – gay or straight – that has ever been as welcoming, supportive and authentic in its actions from day one as the Turtle Creek Chorale. And that shows in the music it makes.
The Chorale has produced over 130 subscription concerts over the years with additional non-subscription shows being added each season. The annual Christmas show is a major event each year. Now performing at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, it is not uncommon to have the 1,800 house packed, especially during the holidays.
The men of the chorale are all volunteers, devoting countless hours to singing, organizing, fundraising, stage production and publicity. The organization holds open auditions twice annually and is a 501(c)3 charity.