Anna Crusis Women’s Choir Is Formed

The Anna Crusis Women’s Choir, the longest-running feminist chorus, was formed out of a combined vision of artistic expression and social change. A lesbian and gay choral movement, which has flourished around the United States and the world since the 1970’s, represents one of the largest elements of the LGBT rights movement at the grassroots level.

Summary of Event

The early 1970’s saw a burgeoning women’s music movement that included lesbian-feminist community choruses. Many of these choruses developed out of the needs of women sharing a vision of social change. While working on issues that included the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment), reproductive health and freedom, workplace equity, gay and lesbian rights, and international peace, many also wanted a supportive community and a place to sing and celebrate their work and vision. Of these early choruses, the oldest in continuous existence is Philadelphia’s Anna Crusis Women’s Choir, started by Catherine Roma in September of 1975. Anna Crusis is now considered a grandmother chorus for the LGBT choral movement. [kw]Anna Crusis Women’s Choir Is Formed (Sept., 1975)
[kw]Crusis Women’s Choir Is Formed, Anna (Sept., 1975)
[kw]Women’s Choir Is Formed, Anna Crusis (Sept., 1975)
[kw]Choir Is Formed, Anna Crusis Women’s (Sept., 1975)
Anna Crusis Women’s Choir
Music;lesbian choral
Choral movement
Feminist choral music
[c]Arts;Sept., 1975: Anna Crusis Women’s Choir Is Formed[1140]
[c]Organizations and institutions;Sept., 1975: Anna Crusis Women’s Choir Is Formed[1140]
[c]Feminism;Sept., 1975: Anna Crusis Women’s Choir Is Formed[1140]
Roma, Catherine
Hulting, Jane

One of the largest contingents of the grassroots LGBT social movement around the world has been the LGBT choral movement, which developed out of the civil rights and lesbian and gay rights movements’ impulses for social change and artistic expression during the 1960’s. While community choruses have historically played a variety of roles in many different social movements, the LGBT choral movement has proven to be a compelling medium in addressing the particular types of oppression faced by LGBT people.

As a grassroots movement that addresses issues of gender and sexuality, various elements that have developed into the LGBT choral movement came out of a response to different aspects of sex and gender oppression. In general, women’s groups organized out of largely feminist, often lesbian concerns and therefore have a mix of lesbians, bisexual women, heterosexual women, and sometimes women who are transgender, while men’s choruses—which developed later, often out of a gay-pride milieu—consist mostly of gay men. Mixed-gender choruses have a later history that marks the coming together of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people, often with straight allies to create social change.

Emblematic of the desire to envision the world differently, the name “Anna Crusis” was chosen as a feminist play on the musical term, anacrusis, a Greek word that describes an “upbeat” or “feminine” entrance to a sung phrase. As explained on the choir’s Web site,

Physically, it [anacrusis] may be described as the precise moment of anticipation and exhilaration which occurs as a singer takes a quick, deep breath before vocalizing. The choir finds the phrase fitting for the purpose of defining ourselves in relation to music, a philosophy of feminism, and the joy of performing.

Exploring the interrelationship between art and social change in order to develop a consistent philosophy and action was and continues to be taken on as a challenge by feminist choruses. Indeed, feminist choruses are generally less hierarchical and more likely to run by some version of consensus than most men’s or even mixed choruses.

An obvious place to merge theory and practice is in choice of music. As Roma writes in “Brief History: Women’s Choral Movement” (www.musechoir .org/history.htm), “The repertoire of women’s choruses is one of the most unusual characteristics of the whole movement.”

Like many feminist choirs, Anna Crusis began by focusing on music that celebrated women. Under the directorship of Jane Hulting since Roma left in 1983, it continues that tradition today, often through collaborations and commissions.

Not all women’s choruses within the LGBT choral movement articulate a strongly feminist vision. Indeed, geography, historical context, and a variety of factors affect the sense of purpose of any chorus. As Roma notes,

Some [choruses] begin when a group of women gather to sing, others are founded by a single woman director, or by a group of planners; in still other cases, a men’s chorus in the area proves anxious to have a partner chorus. Women’s choruses vary in structure: some use clear democratic majority rule, while others operate by consensus. Some choruses choose to stay a certain size, while others put no limit on how many may join. Some hold auditions; others are open to any woman who wants to sing. Some sing a popular-style repertoire, while others sing a wide variety of music. Some have no trouble deciding what to wear for concert garb; others have their most heated debates over dress.

Anna Crusis’s mission remains strongly feminist in its vision not only of striving for musical excellence but also for

social change, with a special focus on music by, for and about women and their lives. The choir values and seeks diversity and inclusion in its membership, audiences and musical selection. While honoring their common ground, members also work to respect and learn from their differences in sexual orientation, racial and cultural heritage, age, class, and spiritual expression. The choir supports, empowers and uplifts its audiences and its members in their struggle for justice, peace and equality.

While choruses in the LGBT choral movement generally articulate a balance between artistic excellence and a mission of social change, the extent of the change desired and emphasis given to this part of the mission varies widely. Feminist choruses such as Anna Crusis and Muse, also founded and directed by Roma, remain at the forefront in the push for social change through excellence in music.


The lesbian-feminist choral movement has had its own substantial impact on the repertoire of choral music available for soprano and alto voices as well as on the LGBT movement as a whole. In meeting with the often larger and wealthier men’s choruses through the development of larger umbrella organizations such as the Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses GALA Choruses (GALA Choruses), lesbian feminists have influenced the nature of the movement and sustained ongoing conversations that continue to impact musical repertoire, organizational practices, and visions for the larger GLBT movement. Anna Crusis Women’s Choir
Music;lesbian choral
Choral movement
Feminist choral music

Further Reading

  • Barkin, Elaine, and Lydia Hamessley, eds. Audible Traces: Gender, Identity, and Music. Los Angeles: Carciofoli, 1999.
  • Brett, Phillip, Elizabeth Wood, and Gary C. Thomas. Queering the Pitch: The New Gay and Lesbian Musicology. New York: Routledge, 1994.
  • Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses.
  • Gordon, Eric. “GALA: The Lesbian and Gay Community of Song.” Choral Journal 30, no. 9 (1990): 25-32.
  • Hadleigh, Boze. Sing Out! Gays and Lesbians in the Music World. New York: Barricade Books, 1998.
  • McLaren, Jay. An Encyclopaedia of Gay and Lesbian Recordings: An Index of Published Recordings of Music and Speech Expressing Themes Relevant to Gay Men and Lesbians. Limited ed. Amsterdam: J. McLaren, 1992.
  • Roma, Catherine. “Choruses, Women’s.” In Lesbian Histories and Cultures, edited by Bonnie Zimmerman. New York: Garland, 2000.
  • _______. “Women’s Choral Communities: Singing for Our Lives.” Hotwire 8, no. 1 (January, 1992): 36.
  • Vukovich, Dyana. “The Anna Crusis Women’s Choir.” Women and Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory 4, no. 1 (1986): 50-63.

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