Over the past few years, NYC & Company, New York City’s marketing and tourism promotion agency, has been encouraging locals to explore his/her back yard with its See Your City campaign. One company that offers neighborhood tours is Free Tours by Foot. So far, of all the tours I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing with this company, none has been as much as a treat as the Harlem Renaissance and Gospel Music Tour led by the informative and lively Lady Altovise.
The first two hours of the tour was a walking tour focusing on Harlem’s history, renaissance, and current socioeconomic state. Information regarding its landmarks; street murals; prominent African Americans sons and daughter who were born, lived, or entertained in the neighborhood, and socio-political topics such as the gentrification of Harlem were provided.
The icing on the cake of this tour was the final hour at the National Black Theatre, where tour group participants were treated to a live music concert by the very talented What A Time Singers gospel ensemble, one of whose members is a descendant of the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Ms. Altovise took the audience on music journey through the various genres of gospel, Negro spirituals, jazz, and blues. In addition to the ensemble’s performance of songs such as “Wade in the Water” and “Swing Low/Swing Chariot” , our tour group was treated to Lady Altovise’ heartfelt rendition of ”Fix Me Jesus”. The live concert finale ended in a spirited crescendo with the audience being invited to participate in song and dance with the gospel ensemble.
The Harlem Renaissance and Gospel Music Tour started in front of the entrance at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture , the second largest center of its kind after the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, and the final resting place of esteemed author, poet, activist, Langston Hughes. The center sits across the street from Harlem Hospital, whose exterior is adorned with Vertis Hayes’s “Pursuit of Happiness” mural, depicting African American migration from the segregated Southern states to the more liberated Northern states. The tour continues to cover important aspects of the neighborhood such as Strivers Row, and prominent African American figures such as Madam C.J. Walker and Mary McLeod Bethune , who either lived or impacted the community in some way.
Sites covered on the tour included current or former entertainment venues such as Apollo Theater, Harlem Renaissance Ballroom, Smalls Paradise, Lenox Lounge, The Shrine; churches such as Abyssinian Baptist Church, Shiloh Baptist Church, Metropolitan Baptist Church, Mother African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Zion Church, a station on the Underground Railroad; and well known structures such as the Hotel Theresa aka “The Waldorf of Harlem”, the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building and statute, and the Harlem YMCA.
The tour gave participants a glimpse of the creativity of its residents by making stops at a few murals including the “Know Your Rights” mural , however the neighborhood has so many street murals that a separate Harlem Street Art tour can certainly be curated.
The tour also gave a preview of the culinary mecca that resides in the neighborhood by passing through the street intersection where Sylvia’s Soul Food Restaurant, Marcus Samuelson’s Red Rooster, Cove Lounge, The Corner Social, are located. Harlem’s numerous eateries participates in the neighborhood’s Harlem Restaurant week
Whether you are a local or a visitor, the Harlem Renaissance & Gospel Tour is not one to miss. Its popularity has obviously reached the ears of tourists, who dominated the composite of the participants in the sold out tour which I attended. For more information on Harlem Renaissance & Gospel Tour led by Lady Altovise, the regular Harlem Tour led by Lady Altovise or other tour guides, please see the link to Free Tours By Foot at: