WSSU’s Burke Singers, vocalist provide songs of peace and justice

WSSU’s Burke Singers, vocalist provide songs of peace and justice
January 19
04:15 2017

Photo by Donna Rogers

The Burke Singers and their founder, Maestra D’Walla Simmons-Burke, show the audience how to keep the beat while singing “Free, Free, Free/Which Way Did Mary Run?” a cappella during their concert at the Home Moravian Church.




As part of their Music@Home Concert series, the Home Moravian Church welcomed the Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) Burke Singers along with vocalist Jason McKinney last Sunday, Jan. 15 in Old Salem. The performance was promoted as related to the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. It was on his actual birthday. King would have been 88 years old if he were alive today.

The WSSU Burke Singers are a female a cappella vocal ensemble founded on the campus of WSSU by Maestra D’Walla Simmons-Burke, director of Choirs and Vocal Studies.

The songs performed by the Burke Singers display a variety of African-American sacred music, African and American civil rights support songs and world political awareness songs. The Burke Singers proclaim themselves to be more than just a vocal ensemble.  Their songs, sounds and lyrics give the listener a different way to hear the songs of old, a new way.

Simmons-Burke gave introductions to the songs en masse, then the Burke Singers performed the songs a capella, with the voices of the women blending together.

Some of the songs include “The Ballard of the Sit-Ins”; “The Women Gather,” in reference to the mothers of black men slain by police officers or pseudo-officers; and “I’m Gon’ Stand.” The audience was able to participate in at least one song that had various beats made by hands slapping parts of the body. The audience helped the women keep the beat to the song “Free, Free, Free/Which Way Did Mary Run?”

McKinney, a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, took the stage first, singing beautiful selections that included the Black National Anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”  He currently works with many local opera companies and orchestras in musical styles that vary from the Baroque to the Modern era.

This season he will be singing with Opera Carolina and touring “Porgy and Bess” in Israel and Italy.  He will also per-form his one-man show about Paul Robeson for the Vance County school system in honor of Black History Month.

The Burke Singers took the stage and entertained the crowd with their vocal talents.  Then McKinney returned to perform operatic selections and to lead the audience in singing traditional hymns, mostly associated with the Civil Rights Movement, such as “Oh, Freedom!” The words were printed on the program so that the audience could sing along.

Simmons-Burke said after the event that at least one of the songs by the Burke Singers was part of her history. The song is “No Mirrors in My Nana’s House.”

“I grew up during The [Civil Rights] Movement and many times I went home crying” because students would tease her about the dark color of her skin. She said her parents did a lot to make sure she knew “just how beautiful we all are.”

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