Searching for Dad

Musician seeks the father - and singer - he never knew

Volume CVIII, No. 7/8July, 2008

Ann Wilmer
Paul Turner, pictured at far left and far right, is searching for his father. His mother, pictured in the middle, was Sylvia Brooks.

Paul Turner, an adult adoptee, singer and lyricist, is searching for the musician father he never knew.

Born Paul Daniel Brooks, his mother was Sylvia Brooks, the youngest of four children in an orthodox Jewish family from upstate New York. Paul was later adopted by Leo and Jean Turner at the age of 21 months and grew up in New York City. Like most adoptees, what Turner knows about his life prior to adoption is limited, hearsay obtained from the adoption agency who will not release his records.

As a young woman, Paul’s mother Sylvia had emotional issues variously diagnosed as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. She was hospitalized for her emotional problems in the 1950’s and 1960’s and subjected to electroconvulsive treatments and drug therapy. 

But Sylvia was not in the hospital when she met Paul Turner’s father in a Manhattan music store in 1960. Sylvia Brooks was a talented pianist. Paul’s father was a singer. The couple probably knew each other less than a year before their son was born Feb. 15, 1961. According to the agency, Paul’s father was 30 years old when he was born. His mother, 26. 

Turner learned his birth name from another searcher who found it in the index of live births, a resource available only to adoptees born in the five boroughs. Birth records for the rest of New York State are sealed tighter than a drum. But he didn’t immediately set out to find her: it’s not uncommon for an adoptee’s search to conclude with a name or for there to be a lag between learning the facts and trying to make contact.

Turner is still searching for his father. Louise Wise Services, known for splitting twins and placing them for adoption with different families unbeknownst to the participants, handled his placement. They also specialized in arranging the adoption of Jewish children. 

Records from the long defunct agency, now in the hands of another New York City agency, contained a curious assortment of “facts” about the father — that he was an unemployed singer, of the Christian faith, 6-foot-3-inches tall, and that he had hammertoes. They also indicated that he did not want to relinquish his son. It explains why there was such a lag between Turner’s placement with his adoptive family and his adoption being finalized more than a year later. And his amended birth certificate was issued months after that.

Turner’s original birth certificate does not carry his father’s name. The only source for his name is the agency records and caseworkers aren’t sharing. Anyone else who might have known was dead by the time he made contact with family.

His mother started college at Syracuse in 1951 with plans to study music. The years between 1952 and Paul’s birth in 1961 were apparently turbulent years. She appears to have been under the care of a sister, Beatrice Ruth Brooks, a psychiatric nurse who later earned a Ph.D. in nursing. 

Relatives say that Turner’s parents continued to have a relationship after his birth and that they wanted to keep their child. Failing that, Sylvia tried to persuade her brother and sister-in-law to adopt the child. Whether or not they were equipped to parent, who can say? Clearly, the family did not think so.

Sylvia was hospitalized briefly at Bellevue Hospital and later at Creedmoor State Hospital on May 23, 1960 at the behest of her sister. Two days later, she told a medical doctor that just before entering Bellevue, she was “on my way to City Hall to get a marriage license.” Counting backward, Sylvia probably did not know she was pregnant.

Sylvia was discharged from Creedmoor, against doctors’ advice, on Aug. 13, 1960, into the custody of her sister. By August, it should have been apparent that Sylvia was pregnant. Beatrice is the one who took Sylvia to the adoption agency. 

After her son was born, she continued to live in New York City, later buying a house upstate in Monticello, which she occupied around 1970. By 1968, she was studying at Columbia as a non-matriculated student.

Meanwhile, Turner, who must have inherited his musical ability from his natural parents, was growing up with an adoptive father who loved music and instilled a love of the arts in his son. Turner started acting at the age of nine, later enrolling in Manhattan’s School of Performing Arts, the public high school that was the basis for the movie “Fame.”

He was 30 when he began taking voice lessons. At age 38, he debuted with the Boston Bel Canto Opera, in the role of Ruiz in “Il Trovatore.”

Turner is a high baritone but he has sung tenor roles and his training enabled him to develop a good top register and a two-octave range. He specializes in comic roles. He wishes he knew about his father’s singing voice and what kind of music his father sang. 

Turner’s maternal uncle said that he closely resembles his mother — eyes, nose, lips — although her hair was a lighter shade of brown. He wonders if he inherited his high forehead from his father. He wonders what happened to his father. Perhaps his father, or someone else who remembers Sylvia and her lover, will read this article and contact him at

Ann Wilmer is a reunited adult adoptee. She has been an activist for adoption reform for more than two decades and founded the Green Ribbon Campaign for Open Records. Contact her at