On Monday nights, singing voices accompanied by a piano can be heard floating through the windows of a private school building in the East Village. This is where Lavender Light: The Black and People of All Color’s Gospel Choir rehearses.
Three black, gay men who felt excluded by their churches formed the group in 1985. They said they wanted a space to sing, worship and be accepted so they formed Lavender Light, the first black, gay gospel choir in the country.
The choir is not only for African-Americans and men, however. The founders did not want to be exclusive and as more people from different backgrounds began joining the group, they changed the name to reflect its diversity.
Maria-Elena Grant joined the choir in 1990 and today she is the longest standing member, carrying on the tradition and mission of the three original founders. Some may say it was fate that brought her to Lavender Light, when her girlfriend ran into a man she knew when they were waiting for the 1 train on Christopher Street.
“They started talking and he said you know I’m still singing with Lavender Light,” said Grant. “And she pushed me in front of her and said ‘my girlfriend sings.’”
Albert Wilcox, another long-standing member, has been with choir since 2004. Wilcox, whose parents are Cuban and raised him listening to Afro-Caribbean tunes, said Lavender Light was just the right fit for him.
“I could have auditioned to like the Gay Men’s Health Choir, but it was too ‘Broadway-ee’ and it was too white,” said Wilcox. “And I wanted something with soul.”
The choir now has eight members, the smallest it has ever been. Grant and Wilcox are concerned with how much longer the group can go on. There are manpower and recruitment issues and the group does not perform as often anymore.
But Grant and Wilcox feel they spread joy and a message with their music as well as provide a safe and accepting space for their members, and if nothing else, that should be reason enough for them to continue.