It has sung for the Vatican, swelled the vaults of St Paul's Cathedral in London and performed for presidents in the White House, but more than 30 years after its founding, the Boys Choir of Harlem is fighting for its survival with $5m (£2.8m) in debts and news that the city is evicting it from its headquarters.
The 125-strong choir, for years a symbol of hope and unlikely prestige in the struggling neighbourhoods of upper Manhattan, has been in crisis since one of its employees was convicted of molesting a chorister in 2002. But now that it faces homelessness, the end may be near. City officials have said that the choir must leave the space it occupies in the Choir Academy of Harlem, a school with an emphasis on music that it has helped run for more than a decade, because of a series of financial improprieties. The choir is also accused of failing to honour an agreement - reached with the city after the molestation scandal - to replace its founder, Walter Turnbull, as its chief executive.
While the city's complaints may largely be valid, the prospect of the choir being thrown on to the streets has triggered hand-wringing in the black community. Mr Turnbull is defiant and has suggested the choir is a victim of racial bias. "They want to marginalise me as a black man," he said. The city softened its stance this week, saying that while the choir had to leave the academy premises, it might be invited to run an after-school music programme there. That does not resolve the question of where it will be based. It has until 31 January to leave.
Leading the fight to rescue the choir is Charles Rangel, who represents Harlem in the US Congress. He has vowed to make an appeal for urgent donations. Former New York mayor David Dinkins has indicated he may step in temporarily to lead the group.
"We ain't going nowhere. The kids are going to be there, we'll get the money, we'll bring the professionals in," the congressman declared this week. "All we need is a little help. These kids have been ambassadors not only for Harlem, but for our country throughout the world."
Mr Turnbull, who began the choir in 1968 with 20 boys, was accused of trying to cover up the molestation case and failing to fire the man who was subsequently convicted.Reuse content