When word got out that the national Lesbian/Gay Band Association was looking for 177 musicians to help welcome President Barack Obama to office, it didn’t take long to fill the positions. The inaugural march is the first ever for a gay band — the Lesbian/Gay Band Association performed during the celebrations at both Clinton inaugurations, but did not march.

Spots in the historic march were fiercely coveted, moving as fast as Pearl Jam tickets circa 1996. In fact, Paul Levandowski, director of the Greater Lakes Pride Band, says so many musicians tried logging onto the registration site when it first opened at 9 p.m. Dec. 8 that it crashed.

Slotted for registration from midnight until 1 a.m., Levandowski says the tuba and baritone horn spots filled in about 15 minutes. After a failed attempt registering as a tuba player, Levandowski tried again as a baritone. “There were three [tuba] spots when I started,” Levandowski says. “I didn’t think I was that slow of a typist, but they were filled.”

Levandowski said musicians representing each of the 26 bands in the Lesbian/Gay Band Association from the United States, as well as Canada, Hawaii, Australia and Japan, will be represented, the majority of them coming from major U.S. cities. 

Levandowski and his partner leave for Washington this weekend, where he’ll join the rest of the musicians for a day of rehearsal on Sunday. On Tuesday the band will perform “Everybody Rejoice” from the movie “The Whiz,” Sam and Dave’s “Hold on, I’m Coming” and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” as well as John Philip Sousa’s “Washington Post March” and “Manhattan Beach March” over the more than 1 1/2mile procession.

Levandowski has high hopes for Obama’s economic and health care policies. “He seems like he’s a doer who will get the job done, not just be a ‘yes man,’” he says.

Under Obama's leadership, Levandowski also hopes more people in the United States will move away from a “Medieval” view of what a family is and recognize, for example, the relationship of him and his partner of nearly 10 years as the family it is. “Obama is all about family, and it doesn’t matter who your family is,” Levandowski said. “Obama’s grandma raised him. He looks at it from a little different perspective than other politicians. I think we’re one step closer with this next president to having acceptance.”

Levandoski, 42 (“and not ashamed”) got his start in music playing trumpet in the school band at 11. He fell for the tuba after seeing the Michigan State University marching band perform at a football game. He went on to play with the MSU marching band and Spartan Brass and led the pep band at the University of St. Thomas.

After a stint at a Catholic seminary in Illinois, where Levandowski says “they wanted smart priests, not faithful priests,” he returned to Lansing.

He started the Great Lakes Pride Band in 2006 to fulfill his dream of being a music director. The 26-member group rehearses weekly at Unity of Greater Lansing church and includes gay, lesbian, bi, transgender and straight members.
“Just as long as they love to play music,” Levandowski says.

Taking part in the inauguration is another milestone for the relatively young Pride Band, which has played The Gay Games, Michigan Pride festival and concerts with the Greater Lansing Men’s Chorus and Sistrum. In June the group was asked by a producer of a TV movie to re-enact a 1980s pride march that took place in Royal Oak. The movie, “Prayers for Bobby,” starring Sigourney Weaver, premieres on the Lifetime network Jan. 24.

The trip to Washington will be the first for Levandowski since taking part in a pro-life march with a church youth group as a kid. Today he says a woman has the right to make her own decisions about her body, but as someone who would love to have children of his own, he still believes “every sperm is sacred.”

This time around he’ll be dressed sharper in a uniform of black pants, blue berets and silver jackets. “They’re going to be shiny,” Levandowski says.

So is he nervous to be part of the first gay band to march in an inaugural parade?

“I’m anxious. I probably could be nervous, but we’ll be surrounded by secret service,” he says. “Being a gay band, someone could pull a gun, but that’s a chance I’m going to take.

Our music is the same as everyone else’s. Just our costumes are better.”

—Eric Gallippo