Founder's Song Silenced - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise Magazine July/August 2018 Issue

With his students singing everything from Bach to hip-hop and globetrotting from Harlem to Japan, Dr. Walter J. Turnbull, founder of the internationally acclaimed Boys Choir of Harlem, built a triumphant franchise that is now struggling to survive. Turnbull, 62, died March 23, of complications from cancer and a stroke.

Turnbull used his own money to start the choir in 1968 in New York City. The choir quickly grew, teaching young boys and girls from Harlem the benefit of discipline and hard work. In 1993, Turnbull partnered with the New York City Department of Education to open the Choir Academy of Harlem, a school whose curriculum was based on Boys Choir of Harlem philosophy and methodology.

David N. Dinkins, former New York City mayor and newly elected BCH board chair, points out that the school excelled academically. “[The choir academy] did better than the citywide average in graduation rates,” says Dinkins, crediting Turnbull. “He had the capacity to instill in young people and their parents that they can achieve anything–and they did.”

Despite the successes of the choir and academy, Turnbull came under fire for not immediately reporting a student’s charge of sexual abuse by a Boys Choir of Harlem employee in 2001. The choir took a direct financial hit, and the city of New York severed its ties, evicting the choir from the academy building.
“The media tried to define Dr. Turnbull as this bad person who didn’t know what he was doing after 35 years of positively affecting over 7,000 lives and certainly representing this city, country, and our community particularly well,” says his brother, Horace Turnbull.

Despite the efforts of Dinkins, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), and former President Bill Clinton, the future of the BCH is in jeopardy as a result of unresolved debt, reduced staff, and lagging financial support. The Choir Academy of Harlem has partnered with St. Hope Academy, a nonprofit started by former NBA player Kevin Johnson, to help revitalize the struggling 500-student K-12 public school.

“He started with nothing,” says Terrance Wright, former member, assistant conductor, and choreographer for the BCH, referring to Turnbull’s upbringing in extreme poverty. “It seems we’re back at the same place with nothing.”

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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.