Recipient of the Heinz Award in 1998
Dr. Walter J. Turnbull received The Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities for his creation of the Boys Choir of Harlem, a highly effective program for educating inner city children and motivating them through music to become disciplined, confident and successful adults.
Mr. Turnbull himself has traveled a long and difficult road from the fields of the South where he chopped cotton as a child, to graduating with honors in classical music and vocal performance from Mississippi's TougalooCollege, and on to a hoped-for career as an opera tenor. Dr. Turnbull went to New York to sing professionally, but his music career was sidetracked when he took a job teaching music in Harlem to support himself. It was there he discovered that "music caused kids to focus," despite the lure of the streets and unstable home lives, and the idea for the Boys Choir of Harlem was born.
It began 30+ years ago, when he gathered 20 youngsters in the basement of the Ephesus Church. It grew, actively reaching the community, local schools, by the end of 1979 they were a touring choir, had established a Girls Choir of Harlem as well, and in 1980 the Choir Academy of Harlem. Mr. Turnbull commented, "It is not just about the choir, it is about discipline, and feeling good about ones self. That's hope"