Singer J.D. Steele leads a new community choir in the Mill District. Photo by Eric Best

Singer J.D. Steele leads a new community choir in the Mill District. Photo by Eric Best

Mill District residents lend voices to new community choir

Updated: October 18, 2016 - 8:57 am

A new choir in the Mill District is trying to make sure everyone’s voice is heard in the downtown Minneapolis community.

The Friends of the Mill District Singers, a community choir now in its second season, is getting neighborhood residents together regardless of singing experience or financial situation. Though it’s open to all, the group is made up of residents from the Mill District, including several who live in Emanuel Housing, a supportive, sober housing development near U.S. Bank Stadium, and other local affordable housing developments.

Claudia Kittock, the group’s founder, said she formed the free, grant-supported choir to connect the neighborhood’s well-off residents with those who are less visible.

“Our charity is about making those invisible people a part of the community,” she said. “We all do well when we all do well.”

The group, which now has a roster of more than 100 singers, started as a conversation between Kittock and the MacPhail Center for Music, which connected her with J.D. Steele, an acclaimed Minneapolis-based singer and songwriter who has performed with Prince, sung on Broadway and led choirs since he was a teenager. Steele, along with his brother Fred on piano, leads the choir through weekly rehearsals and performances around the city.

The choir doesn’t require any previous experience, although many grew up singing. Members don’t have to read music or memorize lyrics as Steele directs the choir, singing every part along the way.

“I’m the outlier,” said Kittock, who has a Ph.D. in music education, laughing.

Friends of the Mill District Choir started as a pilot funded by the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association. The choir also receives support from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council.

It also relies on free rehearsal space at the American Academy of Neurology, MacPhail, the Guthrie Theater and the Mill City Museum. For many members, singing at such established venues is part of connecting residents into the neighborhood. The choir has performed at events across the city, from Holidazzle festivities to a ballgame at Target Field.

“It’s a big deal,” Kittock said. “The business community has been incredible.”


Mill District resident Clark Wold joined the choir when it started last year. He moved to the area last fall and said he’s able to meet his neighbors through weekly Saturday afternoon rehearsals. It helps that Steele invites members to brave sharing their own story to the choir, which typically involves them singing an important song from their life in front of the group, he said.

“That scares the hell out of a lot of people, but we all do it. It’s very helpful. It’s a very congenial group,” Wold said.

For Anne Carrier, a Mill District resident who used to sing in choirs for years, the group provides an opportunity to meet people she wouldn’t normally meet.

“To me, the backbone of this organization is the goal of bringing the neighborhood together. In this day and age, it’s critical we do that. We have to,” Carrier said.

For Wold, the choir is just plain fun.

“The hour-and-a-half we spend together on Saturday afternoons, I’d expect for many of us that, except for seeing our grandchildren, that it’s the highlight of the week,” he said.



For information on joining the Friends of the Mill District Singers, email organizer Claudia Kittock at