Harlem Choir Using Music to Overcome Addiction and Inspire Others

By McCarton Ackerman 05/22/15

The Arc Gospel Choir is entirely comprised of former drug abusers.

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The Arc Gospel Choir. Photo via

A group of 32 talented singers in New York City are using the power of music to aid in their own recovery, while also inspiring others in the process.

The Addicts Rehabilitation Center (ARC) in Harlem is home to the Arc Gospel Choir, which is entirely comprised of former drug abusers. Led by 90-year-old James Allen, a former addict who started the group 40 years ago as a way to raise money for treatment programs, the only requirement among choir members is that they remain drug free.

“It’s [music] a wonderful way to release whatever frustrations and tension that you find in your body,” said Allen to CBSNews.com. Since launching the choir, they have gone on to perform internationally in Japan and France, and have also released two CDs: Walk With Me (1997) and Thank You, Lord (2004). The title track of their debut album was even used as a sample on Kanye West’s hit single, “Jesus Walk.” They also still continue to perform each Wednesday to a packed congregation in Harlem.

"When I had a habit, I played the guitar and passed the cup," explained Allen to The Boston Globe about the choir’s founding. "We had a group of guys in the center—seven of them, in rehab—who could sing. I arranged some gospel songs, we sang at churches. We made $100 here, $50 there. Next thing you know, we grew bigger, played more and more places. In two years, we'd raised the $130,000 and paid off [ARC’s] mortgage.

Among the current choir members are Ira Greig, whose addiction to heroin began as a teenager, and Caroyl Grayson, who was addicted to crack by age 26. Both of them credit the Arc Gospel Choir with saving their life, with Grayson admitting to CBS News that “as soon as I heard those people, I knew I was connected.”

Since ARC’s inception, over 20,000 addicts have passed through the facility.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.