United against homophobia

When The King’s Singers’ Florida concert was suddenly cancelled due to concerns about their “lifestyle”, the group’s 55-year reputation could have been irrecoverably damaged. Marketing and public relations specialist Amanda Sweet explains how she used the power of the media to illuminate the injustice of the situation 

The King’s Singers are not an LGBTQ+ choral group and have never sought to impose their personal views on audiences. Instead, they believe that music can unite and heal, and they continuously strive to work and share their music with audiences regardless of their differences. Therefore, it was a shock when after two very successful and fulfilling masterclasses with choirs at Pensacola Christian College (PCC) in Pensacola, Florida (11 February), The King’s Singers were told, with a two-hour notice, that their evening concert for over 4,000 people was cancelled in response to concerns expressed by the school about group members’ “lifestyle”.

Stunned, shocked, and confused were words The King’s Singers used to describe their feelings.

Upon receiving messages from students at the school, the group began to piece together what was meant by these “concerns”. It appeared that some students were scrolling through the personal social media accounts of The King’s Singers’ members and came across a photo of one of them with his boyfriend. 

With a barrage of direct messages via the group’s social channels, as well as direct emails, the group decided to make a statement so that concert patrons and fans of the group, some of whom had travelled several hours, understood why the concert was suddenly cancelled. 

The following day, my team at Bucklesweet collaborated with the group’s North American and UK management teams to discuss the situation and next steps. A carefully crafted statement by the group, with input from this extended team, was created and posted to the group’s website and socials. The King’s Singers’ mission that “music can build a common language that allows people with different views and perspectives to come together” served as the central tenet of the statement.

The King’s Singers statement

An outpouring of support came quickly from students, patrons, and industry colleagues, all citing their support for the group and disgust over the school’s homophobic position. Later that evening, the school published its statement, having experienced vitriol from students, fans, and friends of the ensemble.

Pensacola Christian College’s statement

Just before The King’s Singers posted their statement, we sent it to various members of the media in the hopes of sharing this message with a wider audience. Interview requests came in at a rapid speed, and we needed to act quickly. After arranging interviews with a few outlets, including The New York Times, The Times (UK), and BBC 4 Front Row, requests continued to pour in and numerous additional news stories were published. Widespread coverage from the traditional news media was compounded by support from other artists on social media. The snowball effect was in place.

Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato wrote on Twitter. “Let the music PLAY. Love is love, and true compassion is what endures. Thank you for showing the way!”

“This is a masterclass in dignified restraint. You represent the very best of us; the KS have been The role model for so many of us for all of those decades. I’m not alone when I say we are inordinately proud of you. Go share the love with your glorious singing, guys.” Baritone Roderick Williams via Twitter

To build on this momentum, the team at Bucklesweet reached out to numerous Canadian presenters’ communications teams in advance of the remaining North American tour dates. By making them aware of the situation, we were able to find innovative ways to heighten conversations around the issue of homophobia in music as well as optimise media coverage around the ensemble’s forthcoming dates. This resulted in a feature in Canada’s largest newspaper, The Globe & Mail, as well as features in Ludwig van Montréal, London Free Press and the Sam Laprade Show.

The group’s North American tour ended in New York City with a scheduled charitable concert, a press day with Sirius XM’s Symphony Hall, and a short performance/ interview about the PCC cancellation and the homophobic hate faced by the group with The Violin Channel. 

While The King’s Singers didn’t expect the first concert cancellation in their 55-year history to be for something other than war, weather or the pandemic, the group chose to stand up against homophobia and hate and even garnered new fans and followers along the way. 

Amanda Sweet is a marketing and public relations specialist and Founder and President of Washington DC-based Bucklesweet. Her diverse client roster includes opera singers and classical music artists as well as theatre companies and performing arts institutions.