Remember the Boys (and Girls) Choir of Harlem? If someone doesn’t step up and make some miracles happen, it’s pretty much a wrap for them. SMH
The Boys Choir of Harlem was started by Dr. Walter J. Turnbull in 1968. The choir sang at the White House for nearly every president since Lyndon B. Johnson, and was awarded the National Medal of Arts by Bill Clinton. Unfortunately the choir was rocked by a sex abuse scandal in 2001 (a 14-year-old boy accused a counselor on the choir’s staff — the counselor eventually was sentenced to two years in prison) which lead to a lawsuit that continues to haunt what remains of the program. Since Dr. Turnbull’s death in 2007, the choir has been plagued with debt (in the millions from payroll taxes and penalties) that has pretty much crippled the organization from moving forward. While Metropolitan Community United Methodist Church continues to get calls wanting to book them, the choir as it was previously known no longer actually exists.
About 30 women and men who are alumni of the Boys and Girls Choir of Harlem have since assembled for occasional performances, including a recent Christmas show at a Brooks Brothers store and an appearance in Shanghai for an international arts festival that was funded in part with help from country music duo Brooks & Dunn with a Texas businessman paying the cost of airfare. Local politicians did not even return calls when they were contacted about helping.
A little more information about the current state of the Boys Choir of Harlem is below, along with a video of an old performance with Kathleen Battle:
Last week, Terrance Wright, a 39-year-old choir alumnus, picked up a microphone in front of the altar of Metropolitan Community United Methodist Church in Harlem, the choir’s last home, and delivered news that surprised few people but saddened many.
“Tell the people. Let it be known,” Mr. Wright said, glistening and exhausted after leading a Christmas concert by former singers in the choir. “There is no Boys and Girls Choir of Harlem.”
The choir’s last official performance was in 2007, around the time of the death of its founder, Walter J. Turnbull. But no one ever announced that it was gone. Board members and alumni had hoped to revive it, but they acknowledged last week that they had not had any success.
The alumni say they want to revive the original goal of the Boys Choir — the development of boys and girls through music — if not the actual organization, which may be doomed by its debts and the lawsuit. Their mission, they said, took on an additional note of urgency this month, after education officials proposed closing the high school grades of the Choir Academy, which the city had run on its own after 2006, for poor performance.
But starting over, Mr. Wright said, might require first that people know the original choir is dead.
“Though there’s no Boys and Girls Choir of Harlem,” Mr. Wright told the crowd before launching his red-and-black-clad singers into their final gospel song, “there is still life. It just means God has something else planned.”