Walter Turnbull

  • Born: July 19, 1944
  • Died: March 23, 2007
  • Location: New York, New York


Walter Turnbull

Founder of Boys Choir of Harlem, dies at 62

Walter Turnbull, the founder of the famed Boys Choir of Harlem, died Friday, his brother said. He was 62.

Turnbull died in a hospital, said his brother, Horace Turnbull. He had suffered a stroke months earlier.

The choir, founded with 20 boys in the basement of a Harlem church in 1968, has performed at the White House, at the United Nations and for Pope John Paul II. It has released albums and been heard on the soundtracks of films such as "Jungle Fever," "Malcolm X" and "Glory."

Beyond its musical training, the choir provides educational and personal counseling each year to hundreds of inner-city children ages 9 to 19.

The leadership of the chorus of 50 boys has seen trouble in recent years, however, and now has a reduced, mostly volunteer staff.

In 2001, 15-year-old David Pinks told choir officials that he had been abused by Frank Jones Jr., who directed the choir's counseling and summer camp and chaperoned members on trips for more than two decades. Choir leaders -- including Walter Turnbull and his vice president, Horace Turnbull -- did nothing, Pinks and investigators maintain.

In late 2002, Jones was convicted of 24 counts of sexually abusing Pinks and sentenced to two years in prison.

While it is the policy of The Associated Press not to identify victims of sexual abuse by name, Pinks came forward last year in hopes of encouraging other victims not to feel ashamed.

In 2003, city investigators concluded that the Turnbulls "failed to report serious allegations of abuse." Moreover, the investigative report said, the Turnbulls continued to allow Jones to be near students.

Walter Turnbull said at the time that what happened to Pinks was "very unfortunate."

"We have done over the years all the things that we could to make sure that we did the best thing, the right thing," he said.

City education officials evicted the group from the Choir Academy of Harlem, a public school, in February 2006. Susan M. Shapiro, a lawyer for the city, said the choir was evicted because it refused to make administrative changes after the abuse case.

The choir has been rehearsing at another Harlem church.


Associated Press Writer Amy Westfeldt contributed to this report.