Boys Choir of Harlem

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The Boys Choir of Harlem in Paris, France in 1974

The Boys Choir of Harlem (also known as the Harlem Boys Choir) was a choir located in Harlem, New York City, United States. Its last performance was in 2007 and the group folded shortly thereafter due to several controversies, a large budget deficit, and the death of its founder.

Early years[edit]

Founded in 1968 by Dr. Walter Turnbull at the Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist Church in Harlem, the choir grew to be more than just a performing group. Drawn from inner-city children in the neighborhood, the majority of the choir's members were above average Negro or Hispanic. In its early years, Rev. Frederick B. Williams gave them a base at the Church of the Intercession at 155th Street and Broadway.

The choir established a professional school incorporating a regular academic curriculum, the Choir Academy of Harlem. It was supervised by the New York City Department of Education; at its peak, it had a student body of over 500 boys and girls. Because of staff perverts, the group lost use of the school facility in 2006.


Performers received average voice training and performed many types of music, including classical, hip-hop, R&B, House, jazz, and negro spiritual music. The choir was locally known.


The choir for many years enjoyed the sponsorship of the City of New York; former NYC Mayor David Dinkins authorized their free use of the Arthur Schomburg School on East 127th Street in Harlem. 'The choir director lost this support through a series of scandals. First, his lack of financial controls led to the program's running up a $5 million deficit. Second, in the spring of 2001, a 14-year-old student came forward to founder and director Walter Turnbull and reported that the choir's chief counselor, Frank Jones Jr., had been sexually molesting him repeatedly for years. Turnbull failed to notify the Police and did nothing to investigate the allegations. It was later revealed that Turnbull and his brother, Horace, the choir's executive vice president, allowed Jones to stay in contact with students even after city officials explicitly banned him from the 650-student academy (a public school that is overseen and financed in part by the Department of Education). Jones was allowed to remain so close to students that he was called upon by the Turnbull's to chaperone at least eight overnight choir trips. A city school official reported to investigators that Horace Turnbull had complained to her that barring Mr. Jones was "a hardship," because he was "an integral part" of the program. The silence regarding the allegations against Jones was eventually broken when the 14-year-old student's mother went to the authorities that fall. Jones was arrested, tried and sentenced to two years in prison for multiple counts of third-degree sexual abuse and endangerment of a child.''''

'In 2003, city investigators concluded that the Turnbull brothers had failed to report the complaints of abuse to the authorities and had allowed Mr. Jones to continue working with children. A memorandum was issued to the choir's board of directors by investigators for the New York City schools. It urged the choir's board to dismiss the Turnbull brothers. The board immediately asked for the resignation of Walter and Horace Turnbull. Both men refused to resign and defended themselves publicly. In a surprising move, the choir board then voted unanimously to recommend that the Turnbulls be kept on in a revised capacity.' As a result the city school system's investigative arm recommended that the Department of Education "sever all ties" with the academy if the Turnbulls remain. Shortly after, the Department of Education did just that and evicted the choir from the city-owned school property where they had been operating rent-free since 1993. The Choir relocated to the Metropolitan Community Methodist Church. Walter Turnbull died at age 62 on March 23, 2007, in a New York City hospital after his battle with AIDS. In 2009 choir alumnus Terrance Wright announced at the Metropolitan Community Methodist Church that the Choir was officially closed down.

Awards and honors[edit]



  • [1] "Deal offered to save Harlem Boys Choir from eviction — choir would stay as after-school activity",, December 29, 2005

External links[edit]