Larry’s Blog: A Trip To The Harlem School Of The Arts

January 30, 2013 6:00 AM

By Larry Mullins, 1010 WINS

Boy, have I been duped.

Black History Month: Harlem School For The Arts, Piano Student Lauren, Teacher Delilah

Harlem School For The Arts, Piano Student Lauren, Teacher Delilah

Sharon (my Executive Producer) usually produces a pretty good list of wonderful features for our annual Black History specials, on 1010WINS. But as I’m walking down the street, waaay the heck up in Harlem…in the rain…in no man’s land (145th street)..I’m wondering what in the heck was she thinking? Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with the neighborhood at all. By no man’s land, I’m referring to the fact that I’m up here looking for this school, Harlem School of the Arts, and it’s nowhere to be found.

I see a little a-frame church on the corner, but no man, or woman for that matter, is here! Hold on a minute. What in the world? Are you ready for this? Apparently, old knucklehead here has walked past the entrance four times! It’s this tiny little door, mid-block, non-descript, not even a sign out front.  I just happened to catch a bunch of kids walking out the door, and stepped in.

And WINS family, you would have thought that somebody dumped the lobby of the Met inside an abandoned bunker in the far reaches of Harlem. There’s a huge atrium and waterfall right in the middle of the lobby! Oh my gosh! This place is beautiful! That’s why they call the school the “Gem of Harlem”; Thirty-seven thousand square feet of absolute energy, guts and determination. I got to meet the Director of the school for this assignment, Yvette Campbell. And this has to be the neatest place you’ll ever see. It’s a community based school, started back in the late 40’s by soprano Dorothy Maynor. Actually, she started it in her husband’s church (that little church I mentioned earlier). She wanted a place where kids could come to study all the disciplines of performing arts. Mrs. Maynor was the lady who is famous, among other things, for singing at both Eisenhower’s and Truman’s inaugural.

Well spring forward by several decades, and now you have this school where kids are studying Beethoven, learning modern dance, painting, singing (no, not rapping), sculpting and a whole lot of other artistic disciplines.

Black History Month: Harlem School For The Arts

Harlem School For The Arts

And this isn’t after school “nappy-time”: Ms. Campbell told me that the teachers here DO NOT PLAY…when it comes to educating youngsters. And oh, the teachers? World class musicians and dancers and other artists who got excited hearing about the school, and wanted to volunteer their time.

I was shocked when they said that one of the world-famous Ahn sisters (Maria Ahn) strolled in one day, and decided that she wanted to teach cello! Maria Ahn!! They also introduced me to a nice lady named Delilah, who teaches piano. She’s a wonderful classical pianist from Germany, with a very thick accent. We talked and laughed, even though Sharon and I have no clue what the heck she was saying, because of her accent. She told us she learned her English, living in Harlem the last three decades J . Love you Ms. D! And the kids love her…and all the other instructors up there. And Ms. Campbell is no slouch either. She was the brain behind the Ailey extension.

A dancer herself, because of her “fiscal turnaround skills”, the city of New York decided no one could be better at turning “this” school around. See, this little school almost didn’t make it. It had some serious money problems. So they brought in a hotshot. This sister is fierce! All business. Seriously, anyway, Mrs. Campbell  put some funding incentives in place, and so far the place is holding its own. She says musician Herb Alpert recently sent a $5-million dollar check for the school, sight unseen, because he read about it.

Hey everybody, please support this school. They are doing some amazing things with these kids. This is that same school which educated Composer Ray Chew, actor Giancarlo Esposito and Lion King Actress Shannon Tavarez. Yeah, this is no joke. They’re trying to keep tuitions low, so kids from families that don’t have a whole lot of money can participate, just like the kids at Ailey, and at the Bloomingdale’s Conservatory. Yep, they get the same level of training, but without the heavy financial load. I can’t wait til next season, when they do their annual community benefit show. Maybe the kids will let Uncle Larry come on stage and sing with them. Don’t get me started with that again.