The King’s Singers, a renowned British a cappella ensemble, looked forward to its appearance last week at Pensacola Christian College in Florida, the final stop on the group’s four-city tour of the United States.
Instead, the college informed the ensemble two hours before the concert was to begin on Saturday that it was being canceled because of concerns about what it called the lifestyle of a singer, who is gay. Students, parents and staff members had complained to the administration, saying that hosting the group would run counter to the college’s Baptist values.
The school’s decision has drawn backlash, with artists, gay rights activists and the ensemble’s fans denouncing the college for homophobia and discrimination. The King’s Singers issued a statement on Monday expressing hope that “any conversations that follow might encourage a greater sense of love, acceptance and inclusion.”
In an interview on Tuesday, Jonathan Howard, a member of the six-person group, called the cancellation “really shocking” and “hurtful.” The singers led a workshop for Pensacola students on Saturday and had started rehearsing for the concert — a crowd of more than 5,000 was expected — when they were pulled aside by college officials and informed of the cancellation, he said.
Howard said it was the first time in the group’s 55-year history that an engagement had been canceled for reasons other than bad weather, war or the coronavirus pandemic. He also said the group had performed at Pensacola before.
“Our mission is always the same: Can we bring people together, connect them and heal them through music?” he said. “Usually that’s received with open arms, even if our politics and personal beliefs are different.”
Two members of the ensemble are gay, Howard said, though a statement by Pensacola Christian College made reference to only one. The statement provided by the school said it had canceled the concert after learning that one of the singers “openly maintained a lifestyle that contradicts Scripture.” It said it had treated the artists with “dignity and respect,” and that they were paid for the performance.
A section in the school’s articles of faith that refers to several verses in the New Testament says the community believes that “Scripture forbids any form of sexual immorality including adultery, fornication, homosexuality, bestiality, incest, and use of pornography.”
The cancellation comes amid growing concern about discrimination against L.G.B.T.Q. people in parts of the United States, including Florida, where the Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, signed legislation last year prohibiting classroom instruction and discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity in some elementary school grades, a law that opponents have called “Don’t Say Gay.”
After news of the cancellation spread on social media, several performing artists posted messages in support of the King’s Singers.
“Such a misguided, closed, short-sighted decision, which you met with dignity, love, comprehension, grace, and class,” the 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!”
The King’s Singers will continue their tour in Canada this week, appearing in Montreal; Toronto; Ottawa; and London, Ontario.