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Walter J. Turnbull

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Information about Walter J. Turnbull

Profile image of Walter J. Turnbull

Profession

Category:
MusicMakers
Occupation(s):
Choral Director

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Blue
Favorite Food:
Cornbread
Favorite Time of Year:
Spring
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Anywhere
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
7/19/1944
Birth Location:
Greenville, Mississippi

Profession

Category:
MusicMakers
Occupation(s):
Choral Director

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Blue
Favorite Food:
Cornbread
Favorite Time of Year:
Spring
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Anywhere
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
7/19/1944
Birth Location:
Greenville
See how Walter J. Turnbull is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Founder and director of the Boys Choir of Harlem, Walter J. Turnbull was born in Greenville, Mississippi on July 19, 1944. He has traveled a long road from the fields of the South where he chopped cotton as a child to attend Coleman High School where he joined the choir directed by Herticene Jones. Jones, a demanding teacher, encouraged Turnbull to attend Tougaloo College where he graduated with honors in classical music and vocal performance.

Turnbull eventually settled in New York City where he aspired to have a career as an operatic tenor. He continued his musical training at Manhattan School of Music and began performing with the New York Philharmonic. His professional career was sidetracked after taking a job teaching music in the basement of the Ephesus Church in Harlem. The choir quickly moved from being a performing ensemble for the church services to one presenting concerts and recitals in public venues with its repertoire of Bach chorales, Mozart, spirituals and hymns. The choir was eventually named the Boys Choir of Harlem. In 1986, Turnbull created the Choir Academy of Harlem as a school serving fourth through eighth grades. The program has expanded over the years to become a college preparatory school serving over five hundred students in grades four through twelve.

In 1997, Turnbull was awarded the National Medal of Arts. In 1998, he received the Heinz Award in the Arts and Humanities and the Readers Digest American Heroes in Education Award. He was also named to the New York Black 100 by the Schomburg Center. In 2003, Turnbull received an honorary doctorate of music degree for his lifelong commitment to music, both as an accomplished performer and as the founder of the Boys Choir of Harlem.

Turnbull passed away on March 23, 2007 at the age of 62.

Turnbull was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on July 31, 2005.


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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Walter J. Turnbull's interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Walter J. Turnbull lists his favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Walter J. Turnbull describes his mother's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Walter J. Turnbull describes his father's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Walter J. Turnbull remembers attending Julia Armstrong Elementary School
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Walter J. Turnbull describes attending Ephesus Seventh-day Adventist School
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Walter J. Turnbull describes his personality as a child
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Walter J. Turnbull recalls his early interest in singing
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Walter J. Turnbull remembers the influence of Herticene Jones at Coleman High School
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Walter J. Turnbull remembers choosing to attend Tougaloo College
  • Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Walter J. Turnbull remembers listening to classical music as a teenager
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Walter J. Turnbull describes the importance of spirituals
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Walter J. Turnbull recalls attending Tougaloo College in the 1960s
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Walter J. Turnbull remembers the impact of Emmett Till's murder
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Walter J. Turnbull reflects upon the impact of the Civil Rights Movement
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Walter J. Turnbull recalls James Meredith's activism
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Walter J. Turnbull remembers his time at Tougaloo College
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Walter J. Turnbull describes the Chautauqua Institution in western New York
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Walter J. Turnbull remembers the effects of racism on his career
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Walter J. Turnbull describes his teaching method
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Walter J. Turnbull remembers applying to the Manhattan School of Music
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Walter J. Turnbull remembers moving to Harlem, New York
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Walter J. Turnbull remembers founding the Boys Choir of Harlem
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Walter J. Turnbull remembers studying opera in New York City
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Walter J. Turnbull describes the value of his opera training
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Walter J. Turnbull recounts developing the Boys Choir of Harlem
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Walter J. Turnbull describes the Boys Choir of Harlem's distinct sound
  • Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Walter J. Turnbull remembers the Boys Choir of Harlem's critical acclaim
  • Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Walter J. Turnbull remembers receiving the Heinz Award
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Walter J. Turnbull describes the Boys Choir of Harlem's financial setbacks
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Walter J. Turnbull describes the partnership between the Boys Choir of Harlem and the New York City Department of Education
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Walter J. Turnbull describes the Boys Choir of Harlem facing controversy
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Walter J. Turnbull describes his autobiography
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Walter J. Turnbull remembers the Boys Choir of Harlem's international performances
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Walter J. Turnbull reflects upon his legacy
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Walter J. Turnbull reflects upon the importance of history
  • Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Walter J. Turnbull reflects upon being interviewed by The HistoryMakers
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Walter J. Turnbull narrates his photographs