Unlikely gospel singer teaching music to teens in Harlem

HARLEM, Manhattan (WABC) -- Gospel music is a beautiful part of African-American culture and it's had a profound effect on all types of music and people.

That's particularly true when it comes to the music teacher we met in Harlem.

"I know he'll wipe my tears and lift me up," sings Eli "Paperboy" Reed in a gospel song.

Not the sounds you'd expect from a 32-year-old Jewish guy who grew up in Massachusetts.

But Eli has been singing gospel since he started singing.

"You can be a believer or non-believer, and I think the music can move you and from a purely musical standpoint its importance is undeniable," he said.

For three years now he's been sharing his passion for the music with teenagers, teaching gospel quartet classes at the Mama Foundation for the Arts in Harlem.

"You'd think he would be an unlikely guy for this program," said Vy Higgensen of the Mama Foundation, but she found her perfect quartet teacher in Eli.

"He came and got on the piano and started to sing and play, and when he did that, I knew that he was almost sent by divine order," she said.

His students agree.

"I'll admit I was kind of skeptical, how is a white guy going to teach gospel music, so I had to feel him out," said Luke Waldron. "After the first rehearsal I thought, we're going to be friends forever."

"Everything we learn here is very inspiring and uplifting, and when we leave here we feel energized and revived and reborn," said Thomas Gatling.

And Eli feels that too. When he and Warner Brothers parted ways, teaching buoyed him and gospel makes its way into his newest album due out this month.

He will likely tour, but will continue to find time for these young men.

"I want it to be a place they look forward to come and enjoy themselves, and get to let loose. I mean it's hard to be a teenager," said Eli.
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