Recognizable in identical red plaid scarves, the Bay Voices Chorus makes rounds to Pinellas venues each holiday season.
Aside from Director Stephen L. Allen, only a handful of the choir members have studied music professionally. They are bakers, florists, nurses and even one psychologist who dedicate themselves to the act of singing each December.
“For these people, trying to make the time and sing during Christmas is insane,” Allen said. “But we make it work.”
All 11 current members identify as LGBTQ+.
“We do this free of charge just for the enjoyment of singing and making another person’s holiday a little brighter,” Allen said.
The group is a product of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Tampa Bay, which came to fruition in 1987 and splintered in 2003 due to a lack of funding. Not all, but many of the current group’s members were a part of the original ensemble and remember singing during a different era.
“It was the early 2000s and money was tight for an arts organization that didn’t have a real tight financial situation,” said choir member Charlie Boyd. “We just kind of gave it up.”
Until 2007, that is, when a few of the members decided to restart under Bay Voices under the directorship of silver-haired Allen.
“Singing in the ‘80s and ‘90s was more of a struggle … we would sing ‘We Shall Overcome’ and that sort of thing. Now that things are changing the chorus being a political thing is done, Allen said. “We want to be a good men’s ensemble, and we just happen to be gay.”
While the group performs at echoing places like the Sandpearl Resort, The Dalí Museum, and the St Nicholas Greek Orthodox Cathedral, they maintain that one of their favorite venues is the Gulfport Public Library.
“There’s a moment where our voices are all blending and you just get a chill,” said choir member Brian Thompson.
It’s toward the end of the show that Allen and his singers typically dedicate a song -“Danny Boy”-to previous choir member Doug Larry, who died from cancer several years ago.
Larry, a longtime librarian at the Largo Library lives on with the group, says Allen.
Bay Voices would like to ask that you consider Moffit (moffit.org) in your end-of-year giving, in Larry’s honor.