The History of the Franco-American Male Chorus
[Editor’s Note: The following account is taken from the 50th anniversary program booklet of the Franco-American Male Choir as submitted to us by its current director, Mr. Robert Gaudette in December of 2004.]
The FRANCO-AMERICAN MALE CHORUS as it is known today consists of thirty members from the Lowell, Massachusetts and Salem, New Hampshire areas. Interestingly, the group has consisted of two and three generation family groups as well as members that originally sang as boys in the STE-JEANNE D’ARC OF LOWELL BOYS/MENS CHOIR in the late 1920s. The F-AMC evolved from the Ste-Jeanne D’Arc Choir, as well as the St-Louis Choir in Lowell, and was formally registered as the Franco-American Male Chorus in 1948 by the founder, George A. Ayotte, who was the mayor of the City of Lowell at that time.
At the passing of Delia Ayotte, accompanist and wife of Mr. Ayotte, their daughter, Fleurette Ayotte Sheehy, took over and remains the group’s very talented accompanist to this day. In 1977, George Ayotte retired and turned the reins over to Robert Gaudette, a loyal member since 1948. Bob’s experience as the Director of the Mary Queen of Peace Parish Choir in Salem, New Hampshire provides the group with the continued technical leadership needed to maintain the professionalism exhibited by the group in prior years. Three of Bob’s sons are currently members of the F-AMC. Bob also directs the Salem Choral Society which he founded in 1972.
Some very notable highlights recorded in the F-AMC’s history include three exciting tours of Canada in 1948, 1952 and 1970. The 1952 tour included the honor of being the first U.S. male chorus to sing at St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal.
The members of the Franco-American Male Chorus seen in this 1950 photo are: (First Row, left to right) Joe Harvey, Marcel Therriault, Leo Cloutier, Director George A. Ayotte, Raymond Jussaume, Henri Lagasse, Armand “Sparky” Desmarais and Normand L. Ayotte. (Second Row, left to right) Albert Gaudette, Bob Gaudette, Rene Ayotte, Henry Pellerin, Richard Lagasse, Leon Bedard, Henry Morrissette and Napoleon Milot. (Third Row, left to right) Robert Daigle, Donald Richards, Andre St. Gelais, Adolphe Brassard, Normand Richards, Raymond Brassard, Rene Vigneault, Leon Payette and Arthur Germain. [Photo from the Hank Frechette Collection, courtesy of Gert Frechette.]
In the 1960-61 time frame, the F-AMC performed weekly in the Franco-American Program on TV-9 in Manchester, New Hampshire which provided excellent visibility to the group’s versatility and expertise.
The F-AMC was invited in 1968, to sing a special Mass in New York City’s STS. Peter and Paul Cathedral and shortly thereafter sang on Boston’s TV-5 in the Diocesan Television Mass for shut-ins. The tradition of providing musical benefits for the elderly and needy continue to this day in the form of numerous variety shows and musicals scheduled annually in the Salem and Lowell areas.
Some additional honors bestowed on the Chorus included an invitation to sing in 1979 for the newly elected Governor Hugh Gallen of New Hampshire. In 1980 the group sang on The Mount Washington which is the Flagship of Lake Winnepesaukee. In 1983 the group sang for Presidential Candidate and Astronaut John Glenn. Other notable events at which the Chorus has sung: Participated several time in the Franco-American Cultural Week; Annual participation in the Irish Cultural Week; Charter member choir of the Lowell Choral Festival; 150th Anniversary celebration of St. Patrick Church; 150 Anniversary celebration of St. Joseph Hospital; Christmas program on Channel 9, Manchester, NH; The Old North Common in Boston; The U.S.S. Constitution; Harvard University, Cambridge, Ma; Famed Methuen Organ Hall for SIDS Foundation; Participated in concert for Merrimack Valley United Way; Dracut High School fund raiser telethon; Lowell and Lawrence Elks Memorial Services; St. Marie’s 50th Parish Anniversary Mass – Fr. Romeo Murphy, Pastor; Chorus has sung at over 750 weddings.
In 1987, the Franco-American Male Chorus was chosen to be part of the Lowell Folklife Project, a yearlong effort to document the life and traditions of the people from this proud city. The materials and tapes are now housed in the Patrick Mogan Cultural Center, and permanently placed in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. for use by students and scholars.