The mission of the Freedom Band of Los Angeles is to bring together the diverse communities of Southern California (including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and straight) through education, rehearsal and performance of music and other performing arts – and to provide a rewarding experience for members. The second musical organization of its kind in the world to be founded, there is a great tradition and history to the group.
Originally founded in 1978 to lead the annual Gay Pride Parade, the Great American Yankee Freedom Band of Los Angeles is an adult community marching band made up solely of volunteers. The group has performed locally as well as nationally and internationally in concert, at street fairs, and community service organization functions. In the past, the band has appeared in nearly every Southland Parade.
In the early days of the band’s history the Gay Pride Movement was just beginning. There were not a lot of gay events around the Southland, so the band opened the eyes of community by performing in many local straight parades. The focus of the band at that time was primarily as a marching unit. The use of the words “Great American Yankee” allowed the group to sneak into these parades by disguising the word “GAY”. Long time members remember the surprised faces of parade watchers when the bass drum with band’s logo passed by, and the realization sank in of what the acronym for the band name meant!
As the Gay community became more visible, more and more gay events were planned. This created more opportunities for the band and membership grew. The band reached its peak in membership during 1991 around the time when the Los Angeles Gay Freedom Band was invited to play for President Clinton’s first inauguration.
During the 1990s the band lost many fine members. Some were lost in the AIDS epidemic, others to busy lifestyles or changes in the community. Membership dwindled, but the band stayed alive through the dedication of committed members. The millennium has brought a renewed spirit to the band. A busy performance schedule has brought new and old members to rehearsals once again.
The Freedom Band Foundation of Los Angeles was formed in 2002 as a Non-profit corporation to support the instrumental various musical groups associated with the Gay Freedom Band in the Los Angeles area Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered community. The concert band was renamed the Hollywood Wind Ensemble in 2001 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 Wind Ensemble is now a 45 piece symphonic band with a growing reputation and audience. In addition to smaller events such as the annual performance at Disneyland, the group presents two major concerts each year at their new concert "home", Zipper Concert Hall of the Colburn School of Performing Arts. The series includes a fall classics concert and a gala Spring 'pops' concert featuring celebrity guests to raise money for the James M. Berg Scholarship Fund. Another example of Music: With a Purpose.
In 2003, the Foundation Board sought an appropriate way to commemorate the founding of the Great American Yankee Freedom Band, and the silver anniversary of LGBT music in Los Angeles. The Board decided that they would celebrate the past by investing in the future and created the James M. Berg Scholarship Fund.
Lead the California contingent in the 1979 March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights
Featured in the Houston, Texas Gay Pride Parade 1983
Opened the 1983 Gay Rodeo in Reno Nevada Combined forces with San Diego’s Finest City Freedom Band in San Diego and Palm Springs Marched in the first Veteran’s Day observance in West Hollywood Performed in Palm Springs with the Los Angeles Gay Men’s Chorus, Liz Torres and Rudy de L’Amour
Performed at the Hollywood Bowl in a concert sponsored by Christopher Street West in conjunction with LGBA (Lesbian & Gay Bands of America) featuring Miss Rita Moreno
During the “Alive” concert tour, the band performed in five cities on a four week period, culminating in participation in the Salute to America 4 July Parade in Atlanta Georgia. As an official representative of the city of LA, Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young declared that week “Los Angeles Great American Yankee Freedom Band Week”
Performed at San Francisco’s Gay Games II as part of the LGBA band Combined forces with the Phoenix band, Desert Overture, in December
Performed at Celebration '90, Gay Games III and Cultural Festival, Vancouver
Joined with LGBA for the 52nd Presidential Inaugural pre-parade festivities
Joined with LGBA at Unity '94, Gay Games IV and Cultural Festival Stonewall 25 Anniversary March, New York, 1994
Joined with LGBA for the 53rd Presidential Inaugural pre-parade festivities Marched with LGBA in the Cinco de Mayo Parade, San Francisco, CA Participated in the LGBA Conference including the “Hollywood Goes Down Under” concert at the Anson Ford Theater with the Melbourne Rainbow Band and the Golden Tappers
Joined with LGBA at Friendship '98, Gay Games V and Cultural Festival in Amsterdam, The Netherlands;
Traveled with LGBA Down Under for Gay Games VI in Sydney, Australia
The Great American Yankee Freedom Band celebrated its 25th anniversary year by announcing the James M Berg Scholarship Fund Named “Most Creative and Outrageous Marching Unit” in the San Diego Pride parade
Inaugurated the James M. Berg Scholarship Fund with a gala concert at the Music Box Theater featuring Drag Icon Momma and Judy Garland impersonator Julie Sheppard
Combined forces with the Desert Winds Freedom Band of Palm Springs and the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band to form Lesbian and Gay Bands of California and march in the Las Vegas Pride Parade. This combined group won two awards in the Las Vegas Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade
Presented the second annual James M. Berg Scholarship Concert at the El Portal Theater featuring guest host Marcia Cross from ABC TV’s Desperate Housewives.
The Great American Yankee Freedom Band was named Outstanding Musical Marching Unit in the Los Angeles Pride Parade.
Co-hosted the annual Lesbian and Gay Band Association conference in Palm Springs featuring a concert of over 125 musicians with guest conductor, composer Frank Ticheli conducting his own works, followed by a 140 piece marching band in the Palm Springs Pride Parade the next day.
Performed selections from our “Gods & Monsters Concert Tour” at Disneyland, Cathedral City High School, Long Beach Congregational Church and Zipper Hall.
Won the Award for Best Walking Unit in the Las Vegas Pride Parade
Awarded a $500 Grant from CSW for Color Guard Development
James M Berg Scholarship Fund Edit
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Great American Yankee Freedom Band, the Board of Directors chose to create the James M. Berg Scholarship Fund. This donation was set up to provide need-based scholarships to students who demonstrate a commitment to equality and social justice, have been involved in promoting greater understanding of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender issues and have been involved in, or have a sincere interest in music or other performing arts.
Since the scholarship was created, funds have been given to deserving students in a variety of disciplines of the performing arts. The recipients are chosen through Project 10 which is an onsite support program for students in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Each May a gala dinner is held to award these deserving students a variety of awards and scholarships.
James M. Berg, for whom the scholarship is named, was a music educator who was involved with the Great American Yankee Freedom Band from 1984 until his death in January 2004. A Graduate of Monterey Peninsula College and Sacramento State University, Jim loved learning about, teaching, and performing music, first as a teacher and then in the music publishing industry. He was awarded the Music Industry Award of Excellence by the California Music Educator’s Association in 2002 and was honored by the Freedom Band Foundation as the longest-serving leader of the organization, being named Artistic Director Emeritus in 2003. In addition to his work in California, Jim was active nationally as a member of the Executive Committee of Lesbian And Gay Bands Association, and conducting massed bands in numerous national events.