Harriet Ziegenhals

When Harriet Ziegenhals founded the Community Renewal Chorus (CRC) in September of 1970, she changed my life and the lives of many other singers in Chicago and its metropolitan area.

She offered us a way to witness to our commitment to diversity, equality, peace, and justice through singing. For over 45 years of Tuesday night rehearsals, I have been sharing this commitment with like-minded singers who have become a singing community of different races, ethnicities, faith perspectives, socio-economic backgrounds, political affiliations, ages, and sexual orientations.

Our music is of many genres, including classical, spirituals, folk, jazz, gospel, contemporary, show tunes and new compositions. We have lifted our voices in song in Friendship Tours to Romania, Poland, the former USSR, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Austria, the Czech Republic, East Germany, West Germany, Scandinavia, Russia, China, Japan, Hong Kong, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Ireland. Harriet, always focusing on building community, was honored by dignitaries from many countries as we traveled on our Friendship Tours.

Harriet’s outreach was not limited to tours in other countries. Every spring, CRC traveled to an urban center no more than 6-8 hours from Chicago to build community there. So we journeyed to Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton, Detroit, Muskegon, Traverse City, Moline (the quad cities), Madison, Milwaukee, Lake Geneva, Indianapolis, Decatur, Peoria, Ottawa, Lanark, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and St. Louis, weaving our vibrant urban tapestry along the way.

Harriet’s vision has had an unalterable effect on all who sing or hear CRC’s music. “Music builds a bridge; it can tear down a wall; music is a language that can speak to one and all. This is why we sing.”

Harriet Ziegenhals died on Jan. 20, 2016. She lives on in the hearts of all CRC singers and friends.

The Community Renewal Chorus will perform a memorial benefit concert to honor Harriet at Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest (Harriet’s church for many years) on Sunday, June 5 at 3 p.m. We will give the same concert the previous evening, Saturday, June 4 at 7:30 p.m. at St. Alphonsus Catholic Church (Wellington & Southport) in the city. We will be singing a number of Harriet’s compositions. Many CRC alumni will be traveling here to attend. It will be sad in so many ways, but hope-filled as well because Harriet’s vision lives on.

Thank you, Harriet, for 46 years of song.

Janine Katonah, a former Oak Park resident, now resides in Forest Park.

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