LGBT Choir Honors the Musical Legacy of John Bradford Bohl

Flint natives Dorie and Brian Barkey are honoring the legacy of their late son John Bradford Bohl with the creation of a new LGBT choir at their local church.
Bohl, who would've turned 38 on May 24, made a name for himself in the church music scene over his 20-plus years of experience as a singer, organist, director and choir conductor. It was his final goal to create a gay men's choir in Flint before he passed away unexpectedly in August of 2018.
Nearly a year after his death, Bohl's parents are making good on their promise to fulfill their son's last endeavor. On May 24th, Dorie and Brian witnessed the debut performance of the John Bradford Bohl LGBT choir to much enthusiasm at the Court Street United Methodist Church.
"It was an amazing, beautiful concert," Dorie Barkey said. "There was a huge turnout. It was great seeing everyone so thankful and grateful we were doing it."
Bohl's love for music began as early as the age of two with his toy piano, Dorie said. "He went to church every Sunday with his grandparents – he just loved listening to the music," Dorie said. "He would go up to the organ after church, and the organist would allow him to sit next to her."
"He was the only child allowed to push the buttons – she felt he was respectful."
Bohl took his first music lessons at age 7 after the family was gifted a piano. His interest in the instrument led to organ lessons at age 12, Dorie said, which then allowed him to start playing professionally as the assistant organist at St. Paul's Episcopal in Flint.
His passion for music pushed Bohl to pursue it academically at Indiana University. Bohl's professional career took him around the country to Baltimore, Washington D.C. and Albany, New York over the next decade, opening doors to play at the National Cathedral in D.C. as well as the prestigious Kennedy Center.
"He was very well respected, well known in that circle," Dorie said.
Bohl returned to his hometown of Flint following the expiration of his last work contract in Albany, New York. With no position lined up, Dorie said her son was looking for his next source of inspiration.
That's when Dorie proposed that Bohl start his own gay men's choir right in Flint.
"He wasn't feeling real good about things," Dorie said. "When you have a job you get used to working. We were talking one day – something I thought of that he'd be good at would be starting a gay men's choir. He was really excited. He perked up and said, 'I could do that.'"
Bohl passed away shortly after their conversation in the middle of a trip to Wills Barre, Pennsylvania, Dorie said, where he only made it as far as Pittsburgh.
"He passed away, and I thought I had to do this myself," Dorie says regarding the creation of the LGBT choir. "I have to do this for him."
Dorie enlisted the help of family friend David Lindsey to help organize the new choir. Rather than being exclusive to gay men, Lindsey and John's parents aimed to recruit both LGBT community members and allies to join.
Lindsey's relationship with John goes all the way back to their early days at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. "I knew John when I was a twenty-something singer at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, and John was a remarkably talented 12-year-old organ scholar." Lindsey said.
"I didn't get a chance to really know John then. It wasn't until many years later when we used to reminisce about Carolyn Mawby, a choral legend from the Flint area whom we both sung under…it was obvious to me then that John was equally passionate about singing."
Together, Lindsey and John's parents worked to recruit about a dozen members to join the new independent choir, which they aptly named the John Bradford Bohl Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Community Choir. The group held their debut performance on what would've been Bohl's 38th birthday at the Court Street United Methodist Church.
Lindsey described the first performance as a "thrill."
"We had close to 300 people there which was amazing for our first concert out of the gate," Lindsey said. "It was a terrific concert, and it felt so good to be a part of something special."
Following their debut, Dorie is thanking the Court Street United Methodist Church for serving as the choir's first venue and helping to make the event happen.
"They did everything they could to make it happen," she said. "Not every church is as accepting as the Court Street Church."
The new LGBT choir is the only one of its kind in Flint right now, according to Dorie. Moving forward, she says the group is in the planning phases of becoming a nonprofit. "People want to donate to us," she said.
For the time being, Dorie and Lindsey are simply celebrating the fact that the choir even exists.
"This group is so much more than a choral ensemble," Lindsey said. "It's a safe space for people to come and be themselves, what that means for the individual."
"I love learning about music, but the wonderful people in this choir are teaching me about life as well."


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