- Lift Every Voice: Expecting the Most and Getting the Best From All of God’s Children (1987)
by Torey Brown (SHS) 2002, Updated 2015
Walter Turnbull is a musician, author, and Mississippi-raised African American who founded the world famous Harlem Boys Choir. He was born in 1944 in Greenville, Mississippi, to Lena Green and Jake Turnbull, Jr. He started learning the way of life from his grandfather, Woodley Turnbull, who taught the old folktales of slavery and the meaning of being a real man.
Turnbull attended the local high school in Greenville. He wasn’t an athletic person, but he had the urge to sing. He joined the high school choir directed by Herticene Jones. She was a demanding teacher that focused on the traits of being on time, concentrating, and putting in as much practice as need to achieve perfection. He was a good student so that wasn’t a problem. After high school, he attended Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi. He joined the choir there. He was taught by Ariel Lovelace. Turnbull graduated Tougaloo College with honors. He went to the Manhattan School of Music where he received musical arts degrees and started to sing with the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, the Houston Grand Opera, and the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre. He was a tenor soloist.
After getting experience, he started wanting to do something for the inner-city kids in New York. He wanted to show them good manners and teach them to have respect for others. That’s how he came up with the idea of creating the Boys Choir of Harlem in 1968. The first rehearsals were held at the Garvey Center owned by a friend. The conditions were hard because the money was low, and the piano was out of tune. He started driving a taxicab and running errands to pay bills. He started recruiting members for the choir and all of a sudden the choir expanded more and more. He had finally achieved his goal.
Today the Boys Choir of Harlem has become a significant act. They have performed in concert halls all over the world. They have appeared on Broadway, in the White House, at London’s Albert Hall, and Tokyo’s Bukodan. They have performed on soundtracks for popular movies like Glory in 1989, and they heralded the grand opening of the Disney movie Pocahontas in 1995. Turnbull himself was named “One of the 15 Greatest Men on Earth” by McCall’s Magazine. He has been featured on the Today Show, CBS This Morning, Good Morning America, Nightline, 20/20, 48 hours, 60 minutes, CNN, UPN News, and Fox News Network. He has also received numerous awards.
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 for the Study of Black Culture. In 1999, Turnbull was awarded the International Citation of Merit Award, the President’s Volunteer Action Award, Intrepid Freedom Award, the Actors Equity Association LeNoire Award, Chase Manhattan Humanitarian Recognition Award, and the NAACP Man of Action Award.
Walter Turnbull must be considered a testimony to the fact that a person can do anything if he puts his mind to it. He was a national leader in three areas of service: education, the arts, and inner-city youth. He received the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music Award at a gala event on April 2, 2003.
Walter Turnbull died in 2007 of cancer at the age of 62.
Review of Lift Every Voice
by Torey Brown (SHS)
Lift Every Voice is the story of how Dr. Walter Turnbull realized his dream of creating opportunities for and
bettering lives of the children of Harlem. The book is the autobiography of Dr. Walter Turnbull. In the book, Turnbull takes a journey of his life starting from his childhood to the establishment of the Boys Choir of Harlem. The founder of the Boys Choir of Harlem tells in this book how he formed his Grammy Award-winning group through teaching the importance of discipline and demanding the best of his charges. He learned these lessons himself while growing up poor in Mississippi as a child.
In the biography, he also talks about the racism that he experienced growing up in Mississippi during that period in the state’s history. The reader will encounter the life of a poor African-American with a goal to do something better with his life than to become just a statistic. Dr. Turnbull opens his heart and mind to tell you the full story of his life in Lift Every Voice.
My opinion of the book is that this book is excellent. The book taught me a couple of things that I never knew about Mississippi, and I live here. It made me want to work harder at my goals and to never give up. So, therefore, I would advise others to read this book. They will be inspired and get motivated the same way that I have been.
- Obituary for Walter Turnbull (Legacy.com)
- NY Times article on the death of Walter J. Turnbull
- Interview with Turnbull on The History Makers (2005)
- “African Pubs.” 2000. Dec. 2002. <http://www.africanpubs.com/Apps/bios/0584TurnbullWalter>.
- “How Walter Turnbull Inspires Self-Help at the Boys Choir of Harlem.” 2000. Dec. 2002. <wysiwyg://13/http://www.libertyhaven.com/…
- “LibraNews.html.” 2000. Dec. 2002.<http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~pane/Libra/LibraNews.html>.
- Turnbull, Walter with Howard Manly. Lift Every Voice: Expecting the Most and Getting the Best From All of God’s Children. New York: Hyperion, 1995.