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Our History

Since its establishment, the Gay Freedom Band of Los Angeles was both a leader in the gay community and an advocate for equality and acceptance throughout Southern California.

Originally called the Great American Yankee Freedom Band of Los Angeles, the all-volunteer organization was founded in 1978 to lead the annual Gay Pride Parade.  The band also opened the eyes of the broader community by performing in many local straight parades: the use of the phrase “Great American Yankee,” allowed the group to sneak into these events without being recognized as an LGBT band.  Not until the bass drum passed by with the words arranged vertically on the drumhead, highlighting the “G. A. Y.” acronym, did the realization strike parade watchers! The group performed locally, nationally, and internationally in concert, at street fairs, and community service organization functions, appearing in nearly every Southland parade. The band reached its peak in membership during 1991 and was invited to play in President Clinton’s first inauguration.

Tragedy struck the gay community in the 1990s. The band lost the vast majority of its members due to changes in the community and the tragic AIDS epidemic. Dwindling down from over 100 members to under 10, the band continued to survive thanks to the dedication of a few dedicated members. The new millennium brought with it a renewed spirit to the band, and a revitalized performance schedule inspired new and old members to attend rehearsals once again.

In 2001, the concert band was renamed the Hollywood Wind Ensemble to more accurately reflect the nature of the group. With the name change came an expansion of the group’s repertoire and professionalism. Still a volunteer community group, the Hollywood Wind Ensemble included approximately 45 instrumentalists and built a strong reputation and a growing audience. In addition to smaller events such as the annual performance at Disneyland, the group presented two major concerts each year at their concert home, Zipper Concert Hall of the Colburn School of Performing Arts. The annual series included a fall classics concert and a gala spring pops concert featuring celebrity.

The Freedom Band Foundation of Los Angeles was formed in 2002 as a nonprofit corporation to support the instrumental musical groups in the Los Angeles area’s LGBT community. The organization increased its outreach efforts, and commemorated the founding of the Great American Yankee Freedom Band in 2003 by investing in the future and creating the James M. Berg Scholarship Fund, which provided need-based scholarships to students who were attending (or had been accepted to) an accredited college, university, or vocational school and who demonstrated a commitment to the performing arts, equality, and social justice. The scholarship fund was named in honor of James M. Berg, a music educator who was involved with the Great American Yankee Freedom Band from 1984 until his death in January 2004.

The band took on its current name in 2013 and established its new home at the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles under the lead of Artistic Director Justin Raines. Now with over 60 active members, the scope of the band has broadened to promote acceptance and equality among all of the diverse communities of Southern California. The main goals of the band are to create a supportive and artistically challenging environment for its members, to provide top quality live concerts that are free and open to the public, and to serve as a model of acceptance and collaboration.    

Milestones

1978

The Great American Yankee (G.A.Y.) Freedom Band of Los Angeles was formed.

1991

The band was invited to play in President Clinton's first inauguration.

1990s

Due to changes in the community and the AIDS epidemic, the band went from over 100 members to under 10.

2001

The band was renamed the Hollywood Wind Ensemble.

2002

The Freedom Band Foundation of Los Angeles was formed to support instrumental musical groups in the local LGBTQ+ community.

2003

Commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Great American Yankee Freedom Band.

Created the James M. Berg Scholarship Fund to provide scholarships for students attending university that demonstrate a commitment to the performing arts, equality, and justice.

2013

The band was renamed to the Gay Freedom Band of Los Angeles (GFBLA).

Established its new home at the First Congregational Church of Los Angeles.

2018

GFBLA marked its 40th anniversary.​

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© 2021 Freedom Band Foundation of Los Angeles, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.