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A Los Angeles holiday tradition turns 50

December 22, 2009 |  9:30 am

HC Archival Photo_1 A half century ago, Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn came up with the idea of having the county sponsor a huge (12-hour) free concert each Christmas Eve. Local music and dance groups would be the stars. Everyone would be welcome to attend. As for a location, Hahn had his eye on what soon would be L.A.’s grand new Music Center. He made a deal with Dorothy Chandler, the formidable fund-raiser behind the project, promising to support her bid to build the downtown complex if it would host his show. “My father envisioned one day a year when anyone who wanted could come to this beautiful cultural center,” says Los Angeles Councilwoman Janice Hahn. “There would be free admission, free parking and lots of music.”

True to Hahn’s dream, visiting the Los Angeles County Holiday Celebration has become a tradition for thousands of Angelenos. Among them is Grant Gershon, the music director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale. When he was a high school student in the 1970s,  Gershon and his friends would head to the Music Center on Christmas Eve. “It was the thing to do,” he says. “You could see singing and dancing all day long. It was a blast. Plus, we actually got to go inside the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. People who were inclined to sing also would congregate together in the lobby or on the plaza and break into Christmas carols.”

Gershon has since performed at the celebration with the Master Chorale and brought his children to watch the show. The atmosphere remains as festive as ever. What began as a parade of local talent has evolved into a shorter (six-hour), more sophisticated showcase of L.A. culture. “Another big change is that everything is even more diverse,” says Gershon. “While waiting to go onstage, we would mingle with choirs from Koreatown and Central L.A. and the Valley and East L.A. We’d all have our different kinds of costumes and music and hang out together.”

This Thursday, Gershon will be out of town, but the Master Chorale will be among the more than 40 groups appearing in the 50th Annual Los Angeles Holiday Celebration, which will run from 3 to 9 p.m. in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The program also will be broadcast live on KCET and KPFK-FM and streamed at kcet.org.

While she often attended the show as a kid, Janice Hahn has taken to watching it on television. “My dad would be pleased that it has lasted this long,” Hahn says. “He thought it was a good idea 50 years ago, and it’s still a beautiful holiday tradition.”
 
Click here to read more about the 50th Annual Los Angeles County Holiday Celebration and here for the full schedule.

-- Karen Wada

Photo: Kenneth Hahn and a children's choir prepare for the first Holiday Celebration at the Sports Arena in 1959. Credit: Los Angeles County Arts Commission.

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