About Harlem Gospel Tour – Harlem Spiritual Tours
There is nothing quite as electrifying as a live gospel performance at a Harlem church on a Sunday morning, with the sound of spellbinding choir voices transporting you from the harried streets of New York City to a place of pure inspiration. Immerse yourself in just such an experience on the Harlem Gospel Tour, which includes a visit to a local congregation just as the stirring musical portion of the service begins.
This spirit-lifting stop is part of a four-hour excursion that leads visitors on a fascinating journey through a vibrant New York City neighborhood renowned for its deep ties to African-American culture and spirituality, with stops at well-known landmarks and historical sights all along the way.
Enjoy the sights from the comfort of a climate-controlled bus, as you cruise uptown from the Harlem Gospel Tour's starting point by Times Square. Once you reach Harlem, watch the rich cultural legacy of the neighborhood's African-American community unfold before your eyes in the form of street art, monuments and beautiful historic buildings that were once home to Duke Ellington and other famous residents.
Stretch your legs with a short walk along one of the neighborhood's busiest thoroughfares, 125th Street, where you can check out the colorful storefront murals by local artist Franco the Great, who is often personally on hand to greet fans. The charismatic artist -- who is usually flanked by a small entourage hawking merchandise emblazoned with his handiwork -- is quick to greet you in one of the six languages he speaks, or flash his debonair smile for a photo. Franco is a true Harlem legend: as a young magician in Panama, he left for the U.S. in 1958 to pursue a career as an artist. Franco first began painting on storefront gates on 125th Street in 1978, and his creative output on that stretch now includes more than 200 murals.
You'll also have the opportunity to snap photos of the iconic Apollo Theater on this part of the tour. This legendary theater launched the careers of Billie Holiday, James Brown, the Jackson Five, and many others. Ella Fitzgerald made her debut here at the age of 17. The building originally opened as a burlesque theater in 1914, changing formats to variety revues in 1934, and despite a few brief closures is still going strong today.
Tour-goers can delve further into Harlem's musical roots during the Harlem Gospel Tour's longest and liveliest segment – the worship service with a local congregation. The gospel choir takes center stage during this one-hour church visit, belting out rousing songs with infectious melodies that may move even the least rhythmically inclined visitors to join in the hand-clapping and swaying. If you take the Harlem Gospel Tour on a Sunday, you will most likely experience a traditional gospel choir with organ, piano and drum accompaniment. The Wednesday excursion features an a cappella gospel choir affiliated with the Addicts Rehabilitation Center drug recovery program.
The Harlem Gospel Tour's other sights include the former Jewish section of Harlem where figures like Harry Houdini and George Gershwin once lived, to the Muslim mosque where Malcolm X was minister for a time. And long before those cultural icons walked the streets of Harlem, the neighborhood also played a role in the United States' bid for freedom – see it in person during a stop at the Morris-Jumel Mansion, which housed George Washington and his troops during the Revolutionary War.
The excursion's departure point on the first floor of 690 Eighth Avenue includes a small boutique with souvenirs for sale. In addition to the standard selection of T-shirts, mugs and magnets, the shop offers Harlem-inspired posters and handmade jewelry from local designers. The space also has a restroom and two computers for checking email.
Approximately four hours
Did you know?
The Harlem Gospel Tour was one of the first guided excursions of its kind in Harlem, with tour operator Harlem Spirituals dating back to 1981.
With ties to France from its earliest days, Harlem Spirituals was started as a way to meet the demand from European tourists for a way to experience the music of Harlem during their stays in New York City.
A major focus of Harlem Spirituals is to give back to the community, so the company has arranged at times for some of the local gospel choirs showcased during the tours to perform in Europe.
The Harlem Gospel Tour by Harlem Spiritual Tours is a great excursion for music lovers, general culture enthusiasts and spiritual-minded visitors alike, especially given its inclusion of a powerful gospel performance at a local church. This tour also appeals to history buffs, with its exploration of landmarks tied to U.S. Founding Fathers like George Washington and Alexander Hamilton.
Good for kids?
Older children and teens may get the most out of the Harlem Gospel Tour, especially if they have an interest in music or history.
Harlem Spiritual Tours Location Information:
690 Eighth Avenue (1st Floor)
New York, NY 10036
Harlem Gospel Tour
Begins: 690 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10036
Ends: Times Square, New York, NY 10036
A, C, E, to 42nd St./Port Authority; N, Q, R, S, 1, 2, 3, 7 to Times Sq./42nd St.; B, D, F, M to 42nd St./Bryant Park