I was honored to be asked to help with the branding and re-launch of this legendary New York institution. The Boys Choir of Harlem has sung for kings and presidents, and after a period of decline, is roaring back to its rightful place as one of the world’s great concert and recording acts, as well as one of New York’s premier music schools. This is the kind of project I love, a blank canvas combining brand identity, marketing and design from soup to nuts.
This was one of our studio’s most challenging projects to date. The Boys Choir of Harlem was relaunching on several fronts, and needed many new branding elements all at once. There was to be a revived performing entity, “ The Boys Choir of Harlem”. It would need a strong visual identity for concerts and recordings. Also being relaunched was the Choir School, which would need everything from a web site to clothing, from applications to apps. Finally, there would be The Boys Choir of Harlem, Inc., which would pursue entertainment and educational ventures, from a Broadway musical to a line of instructional videos and web and mobile apps.
We began with a line that we hoped would capture the hopefulness and the optimism of the Choir’s rebirth. We also hoped it would capture the client’s imagination as a point of view we could build our branding efforts on. The line was “Like A Phoenix, rising from the ashes…” We set it in a font that suggested the handwriting of the choir’s late founder, Dr. Walter J. Turnbull, and displayed it on a musical staff.
The client liked this direction, and so we went on from there to create a heraldic shield for the choir, (and the school that is the choir’s training ground) something you could wear proudly on a blazer. It would incorporate a Phoenix as a key element. harlem dates back to 1658, so Dutch-influenced gothic type seemed to fit the retro feel of this shield. The choir used to sing in maroon blazers, so we had a palette – school colors!
The client liked this as well, and so we prepared a full brand booklet, with various proposals for the different items on their sizable menu and proposals for menu items they hadn’t thought of yet – a Broadway musical, a series of educational apps, apparel.
We were then asked to come up with an entirely different brand treatment for the actual touring group. This group would be New York City’s ambassadors to the world. We thought of capturing the bold, black-and-white flavor of the metropolis with a design inspired by New York’s subways and their famous Helvetica typeface. The New York subway signs are visible from across the street, and “read” even when only a small portion of a word is showing.
This led us to a logo design we loved. It has a retro feel reminiscent of great ad campaigns and posters of the 60s, when the choir was founded, and it works in a variety of settings:
We also developed a website built for the needs of the school and the touring group. It needed to be modular, easily updatable and to project permanence and stability, important considerations for a brand on its way back. In design terms, we tried to strike a balance between the sober, artistic visual rhetoric we’d developed for the school and the bolder, more in-your-face feel of the touring Choir.