By Ed English
Once you’ve won a Grammy Award with your voice, it’s a tough act to follow.
“Well … I was on a Grammy-winning recording,” explains Stephan Bobalik, coyly. The award was for a ensemble recording of composer William Bolcom’s “Songs of Innocence and of Experience” that featured nearly the entire University of Michigan’s school of music. “The work required immense musical forces. So yeah, I’m on a Grammy-winning recording. I don’t know if I can officially say I have a Grammy, sometimes I do,” he laughs, adding, “My name is in the liner notes. So there’s that.”
As a vocal performance major at the University of Michigan, Bobalik knew he wanted a career that would utilize the power of his voice.
“When I started college, I would have told you I was going to be an opera singer … I am not an opera singer,” he says with a laugh. “About half way through my first senior year of college, I was having the realization that the direction I was going, pursuing a career in voice, wasn’t really what I wanted.”
Changing the tune of his career aspirations, Bobalik, 33, now uses his voice for advocacy as a newly hired fundraiser at the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), a vital role in Michigan’s fight for equality.
“I worked at Sphinx (Organization); I worked on the Obama campaign of 2012. I worked at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. And last year I was working on Mark Schauer’s campaign for governor — all terrific places to work, terrific missions,” says Bobalik, explaining, it has always been important for him to work for an organization where he would have a strong connection to the mission. His involvement with the ACLU first began five years ago as a volunteer. “And I think it’s an honor to be a part of it. I am here raising the money to make sure we can keep all this going and to work with our donors who see what we are doing as something that’s fulfilling. I knew a lot of people at the ACLU, so it was a match made in heaven I like to think.”
And in case you’re wondering, he doesn’t miss a day of the stage spotlight.
“It’s interesting. I think one of the things I most disliked about performing is being the center of attention,” he says with laughter. “So not really super into being the center of attention.”
Not completely retiring his singing talents, each Sunday Bobalik sings in the church choir at Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church in Detroit. A place he “kind of fell in love with” after moving to the Motor City from Ann Arbor eight years ago.
“When I first moved down here, if you would have told me that eight years later I’d still be here, I would have said that’s insane. (I would have said) I’m going to move in two years to an actual big city where they have things like public transportation and coffee shops that are open on the weekends,” he says. “I didn’t know anyone who lived in the city when I moved down here and slowly met a bunch of awesome people.”
Raised in the small town of Sturgis, Michigan, Bobalik says he has learned to have a great sense of pride for the resilience of Detroit and its LGBT community.
“I think (pride) means being proud of who you are and accepting who you are, but not stopping there. Being an advocate for your community,” he says. “It’s one thing to be out and proud and scream it from the rooftops. But it’s another thing, and a step that I think more folks should take, to learn to be a real advocate for the LGBT community and work for meaningful change.”
Speaking about the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, Bobalik says it’s nice to celebrate, but there is still work to be done in all communities.
“This concept of married today and fired tomorrow is very real today in Michigan,” he explains. “Bullying and harassment in schools, gender markers on licenses, transgender discrimination — these are all things we need to work through before we can claim a full victory. So you know it’s something to be celebrated. But the fight goes on. We can’t rest on that. We should celebrate. But then the (opposing) side is absolutely putting together a huge war chest to roll things back where they can. And we’ve got to be able to counter that, not only with money but also with our voices and with advocacy.”