Posted on December 23, 2009
One of New York’s great musical institutions, the Boy’s Choir of Harlem, is no more. The announcement was made last week by a choir alumnus, after former members of the group performed in Harlem. Although the Choir gave its last official performance two years ago, in 2007, no official announcement of its demise was made. After its founder, Walter J. Turnball, passed away, attempts were made to revise it, but without success. The choir’s downfall can be traced to both financial issues as well as an abuse scandal; the group was removed from the Choir Academy of Harlem in 2006 and never really recovered their footing. In its heyday, however, the choir sang for almost every United States president since Lyndon Johnson. They performed everywhere from Royal Albert Hall in London to their final home at the United Methodist Church in Harlem; appeared on TV Christmas specials; and had a repertoire that included works in German, Latin and English. They sang Mozart and Stevie Wonder; Cole Porter and Bach. The group was awarded the National Medal of Arts by former President Bill Clinton. Its original goal was to help kids--often from underprivileged backgrounds--develop more fully through music. People still call to try to book the group for events, and a splinter group of musicians does exist. It includes both male and female voices, and has performed at venues as diverse as a Brooks Brothers store and an arts festival in Shanghai. Some members hope the original group will find its way back to its beginnings. In the meantime, the rest of us will just have to dig out one of their old recordings and remember what made them such a New York legend.