In the summer of 2013, a rather unusual concert took place on the corner of 125th Street and Fredrick Douglass Boulevard in Harlem. If you knew your music history, you might have recognized some of the songs—classic tunes from the quartet gospel era—but you certainly wouldn’t have recognized any of the singers. That’s because the group, overseen by powerhouse soul man Eli “Paperboy” Reed, consisted exclusively of at-risk youths who had spent the summer studying and rehearsing with him as part of the non-profit Gospel For Teens program.
The performance might not have seemed like much at the time (they’d only learned three songs, so they cycled through them five times in a row for the ever-changing crowd of passers-by), but the street-corner show signaled much more than any lucky listener could have known that afternoon. It not only achieved Reed’s goal of reconnecting young African-American males with this timeless music, it also laid the groundwork for his exhilarating new album and Yep Roc debut, My Way Home. He hadn’t planned it that way, but Reed’s work teaching in Harlem brought him back to the sound that laid the foundation for Soul music and which had always moved him deeply: Gospel