When Richard Hartley ’85 came to Brooklyn College, it was for one reason only.

“The campus. I felt like I was at Harvard,” he says, pointing out that he was raised in a very strict Pentecostal home in the housing projects of Rockaway Beach, two bus rides away but still a vastly different world. “Brooklyn College was a colorful place back then, and for me it was culture shock. There were Hare Krishnas, Muslims, people wearing dashikis, so many different cultures, mentalities, sexualities, and all other kinds of ‘-alities.’ It was my introduction to global inclusivity.”

Hartley completed his bachelor’s degree in psychology and then continued at Brooklyn College for graduate studies in education while also working as a counselor in the New York City Public Schools. But he had never abandoned his lifelong passion of music. Hartley grew up singing and directing church choirs and got an opportunity to become the choir director for Mama, I Want to Sing!, which would become the longest-running African American off-Broadway musical.

“My music started taking off and interrupted my academics,” says Hartley.

But soon, life for Hartley became a whirlwind of world tours through Africa, Europe, and Asia, directing choirs for big stars like Mariah Carey, Céline Dion, Mary J. Blige, and Diana Ross.

Now Hartley, larger than life and a bit spoiled from working with elite vocal chords, has returned to his old stomping grounds of Rockaway Beach as Pastor Hartley of the Haven Ministries Church—which his mother founded—where he finds himself directing a choir of everyday people who wouldn’t exactly qualify to back up Mariah. And that’s where the hilarity begins.

“I’m working with people who tell me, ‘believe me I can sing.’ I have to tell them, you probably believe you can fly too, but I wouldn’t suggest you jump off the roof,” says Hartley, who, with his comedic wit and musical talent, is now the star of a reality television show (he prefers the word docuseries) on USA Network called “The Rev,” which premiered late last month.

“It’s like The Jeffersons, 227,—a blend of all those feel-good black TV shows,” he says.


“The Rev” features Hartley and his family—his wife of 30 years and two adult children who live at home—as they go about their lives while also trying to build their new choir into a world-class ensemble.

Production was hampered last March by the COVID-19 pandemic, and when they returned to filming in August, the already struggling choir—clearly in on the all-in-good fun jokes at their expense—was masked.

“These people don’t sound good without masks. With masks, it’s like listening to muffled noise,” says Hartley, laughing. “We also had to use only half the choir because of CDC regulations. That changes the sound. If you can’t sing as great, there’s not as big a crowd to drown you out.”

The show’s entertainment doesn’t end with Hartley’s shenanigans with the choir. Watching him take on the topic of online dating during his daughter’s relationship workshop (“What’s a bumble?” he asks, when delving into modern dating apps), his efforts to push his millennial kids out of the home (“We’re going to set a curfew where you have to stay out of the house,” he tells them), and his general funster personality provide the episodes with plenty of charm.

“I’m glad to be home,” he says, before smirking. “And now the fun can begin.”