As we look back on Pride month, we celebrate a few of our own members. Each June we present the KGMC Artistry Award to a member who represents our ideals of both artistry and advocacy for all persons. This year it was given toDonald Rickels, also known as our beloved Marge Williams. The comments below were given by our Artistic Director, Alan Stevens, about why he selected Donald for the award. Those of you who know him will undoubtedly agree. Congratulations to Donald!
The recipient of the 2019 Artistry Award joined KGMC during the first season. He began in the spring of 2013 with KGMC’s second concert cycle. Since that time he has become a dedicated member of the organization. Members of the chorus often refer to him as a quiet, motivated, and a hard worker. Do not let this description confuse you, however, for he is also a fierce, loyal, fighter for equal rights. He is a survivor who has worked hard to ensure equal rights for all persons.
My favorite thing about the recipient of this award is his dedication to living openly and honestly. He shares who he is with the world without apparent shame or fear. He inspires other members of the chorus, not only to be better people, but also to work harder. He posts his practice logs in our Facebook group and reminds all of us to stay on track with memorization.
He undoubtedly practices more than any other member of the chorus, and he motivates all of us to rehearse more consistently. He encourages us to better understand the meaning of what we are singing, and helps us to connect more meaningfully to what we sing. In our May concert this year, he courageously shared his story of living with HIV and surviving during the early years of diagnosis when there were no viable treatments for the virus. He stood up and told his story to help us all understand what it was like to survive, struggle, and ultimately thrive as an HIV positive individual over several decades.
This person also makes us consistently laugh with his alter ego, Marge Williams. He memorizes Marge’s many lines for our shows, creates fabulous costumes for Marge, and has made thousands of people laugh with Marge’s dry and witty delivery of jokes and zingers. Marge carries over into his public life as well. He refuses to accept the mainstream constructs of masculine and feminine gender norms. He is as equally comfortable in makeup and heels while singing with his church choir as he is in a suit and tie. He is a fierce supporter of young queens, and he is unafraid to spread a rainbow flag wherever he goes. He refuses to be confined to gender norms, and he inspires younger members of our community to live without confining themselves to societal “rules.”
As a part of the chorus, he has done so much it would take hours to fully explain. Aside from being an inspiring motivator for all of us to rehearse more, he does much behind the scenes. He served as a board member for several years, and is always one of the first to volunteer when there is work to be done. He bought t-shirts for every member of the chorus, magnets and promotional items for recent concerts, and has made many cash donations to birthday and annual fundraiser drives for KGMC. On multiple occasions he has provided food for the entire chorus and theatre crew between our back-to-back concerts. He has donated his services as a travel agent to arrange for our hotels at GALA Festival, on our tours, for our chorus retreats, and whenever any travel assistance was needed. He welcomes new members and he praises returning members. He is always ready to volunteer when KGMC needs assistance, and I’m sure there is much more he has done that I have not seen.
He fights to move his beloved church, Church Street UMC, to a more progressive position. He is one of the reasons KGMC is able to rehearse at CSUMC, and he reminds all of us that positive social change can be achieved through civil discourse, embracing love, and working with others through conversation.
All of this can be summed up when I say the he exemplifies everything about our dual mission of both outstanding artistry and activism for the improvement of the lives of LGBTQ+ persons. He quietly works to make all of our KGMC experiences better without asking for a spotlight, a bow, or public recognition. It is my distinct privilege to work with him every week and to conduct such a dedicated singer. It is all of our privilege to learn from the example he sets as a person of great artistry, integrity, passion, humor, and humility. It is my great honor to present the 2018-2019 KGMC Artistry Award to Donald Rickels, our beloved Marge Williams.