Professor mixes music with education
Dr. Lisa Edwards-Burrs feels ‘great pride’ in singing songs by African American composers
Soprano and educator Dr. Lisa Edwards-Burrs will be performing Feb, 16 at the Chesterfield County Public Library. Alongside pianist Charles Staples, the two will be playing a variety of music by African-American composers.
Edwards-Burrs has been performing for more than 30 years, including when she performed the national anthem for former President Barack Obama. She was involved in music programs in school, where she studied the harp.
“I was one of the first harp students in Richmond Public Schools because my music teacher, Anne Walker, wanted the school system to have harp, so she started it,” she said. Edwards-Burrs also studied violin and plays piano.
Growing up in Petersburg, she attended Gillfield Baptist Church. She said that growing up in a church with a musician and Pulitzer Prize-nominee Undine Smith Moore was very influential.
“They would do her wonderful arrangements,” said Edwards-Burrs. “She was a huge figure in
African-American music. That was something that was fun for me was to grow up with her in the church, listening to her music. I feel great pride in doing her music.”
Though Edwards-Burrs still performs, she is also a professor. She taught at Virginia State University for 17 years and has now been teaching at Longwood University for the past six years, where she teaches classes such as voice and opera workshop.
Now, years later, both of Edwards-Burrs’ children are also involved in music. Her son plays jazz guitar, and her daughter is a violinist. She cites them as one of her greatest accomplishments.
With a long history of performances tucked under her belt, EdwardsBurrs said she still looks forward to performing.
“It’s always a nice experience for the people in the audience, and it’s always nice for me and my colleagues because you realize you’re educating at the same time while you’re hopefully giving an enjoyable performance as well,” she said.
“The first African-American composer recital that I did was years ago at the University of Richmond where I was an adjunct professor,” Edwards-Burrs added. “People just marveled at what they didn’t know. With African-American composers, sometimes people think that they only do spiritual and don’t realize that they contribute to classical as many other composers do.”
Edwards-Burrs and Staples will be performing music from a wide variety of composers like John W. Work Jr., Margaret Bonds, Leslie Adams and Duke Ellington. Staples will also be performing solo piano pieces from composer Harry T. Burleigh.
“I hope that the audience learns. It is very unusual that you would find an audience, unless they are musicians like myself, that are well versed and knowledgeable about the contribution of African-American composers to classical music,” said Edwards-Burrs. “I love for them to just learn and enjoy and to go home and say ‘I had no idea that these songs were written.’ I like that for them, to be exposed and to discover just a little bit more about our history.”
The event is one in a series of events that are being held for Black History Month. It will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16 from 1-2 p.m. Registration is required and can be done at library.chesterfield.gov or call (804) 751-CCPL.
Dr. Lisa Edwards-Burrs will perform a concert spotlighting African American composers Feb. 16 at the Chesterfield County Library