Carla Burns, Who Broke a ‘British Tonys’ Color Barrier, Dies at 66


Carla Burns, a singer and actor who won Britain’s highest stage honor, the Laurence Olivier Award, in 1991 for her role as the riverboat cook queen in the production of “Show Boat”, and who later lost her soulful voice fought to regain it. He died on June 4 in Wichita, Cannes, in an operation to remove a growth in his throat. She was 66 years old.

Her sister, Donna Burns-Revels, said the death was caused by a series of strokes, in a hospital.

A spokeswoman for the Society of London Theatre, sponsoring the Olivier Awards, said Ms Burns was believed to be the first black artist to win that honour.

his olivier, Britain’s equivalent of a Tony, for Best Supporting Performance in a Musical, came in recognition of his work in the 1991 revival of “Show Boat”, co-produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company in the West End. She earned a Tony nomination for playing Queenie on Broadway nearly a decade earlier.

Ms. Burns’ musical journey began when she was a girl growing up in Wichita in the 1960s. Her father was a blues and gospel pianist, and every Saturday night she danced next to his piano when it played. She burst into song on the bus ride to school. One day a choir told him, “Kiddo, you can really sing.”

After studying music and theater at Wichita State University, Burns auditioned for the role of Queen in the regional production of Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s 1927 musical.show boat, about the lives of the cast and crew aboard a floating theater called the . is called cotton blossom Which travels separately along the Mississippi River to the south.

Ms. Burns took the role and was soon on stage at the Lyric Theater in Oklahoma City. Then she performed as Queen at the Ohio Dinner Theater production, belting out “Can’t help lovin’ dat man“At Night. In the early 1980s, she moved to New York to audition for the national tour of “Show Boat.” Houston Grand Opera. She competed for the role against hundreds of other women.

“I didn’t have an agent and I moved in,” said Ms. Burns in a interview On “The Merv Griffin Show” in 1982. “Some of them, I knew their faces, I knew they were famous women, and I said, ‘Okay, here I am, and I’m from Kansas, and I’m going to go out there and do my best. I will perform.

She was asked to sing 16 times of a song and then the audition was over. After weeks of silence, someone called to apologize for losing his phone number. The part was his, he was told.

The musical, starring Donald O’Connor and Lonette Mackie, toured the country for months and arrived. Broadway in 1983.

“Extraordinary work by Carla Burns,” wrote Frank Rich in his review in The New York Times. “Miss Burns is assigned a sizzling, rarely heard song,”hey, failer,’ which has been reinstated in ‘Show Boat’ for this production.”

she was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance and won a drama desk award. She later sang on “Show Boat”. studio album, released in 1988.

“Carla was proud to play Queenie,” said Rick Baumgardner, a close friend of hers. directed Her in productions of “The Wiz” and “Steel Magnolias”. “When she got a chance to slit her head, she didn’t feel that she was letting people down. She felt that she was portraying strong women and reminding our country of her past. “

In the 1990s, Ms. Burns appeared in “hi-hat hat, “a traveling woman music Based on the life of Hattie McDaniel, the first African-American actor win an oscar, for her role as Mammy in “flew in the air”(1939). Ms. McDaniel was also Wichita native and hadi played In the 1936 movie version of “Show Boat” the Queen and Ms. Burns had long agreed A kind soul to him.

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“I saw a lot of similarities,” he said in an interview on public radio station KMUW Wichita in 2018. “I’ve noticed that people often look at your complexion, your size, and it makes a difference what roles you get. McDaniel’s struggle was even at a time when people looked at each and every one of you and you got a part. were blessed to have.”

She continued: “She used to take words, and because she knew how to craft them, she served no one. She played a subordinate role, but she was never a subordinate human being.”

In other stage productions Ms. Burns took notice to play Bloody Mary, which trades with American sailors in the musical “South Pacific” and Maria, Mother Tongue of Catfish Roe in “Porgy and Bess”. In 1989, she was cast in the production of “Porgy and Bess”. Metropolitan Opera in New York, a year after appearing in Mark Blitzstein’s 1949 opera “regina” On Long Wharf Theater In New Haven, Conn.

Ms. Burns performing with Marisa Tomei in “”comedy of errors“In 1992 and the next year with Kevin Kline”measure for Measure,” both at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park as part of the New York Shakespeare Festival.

By the time she was in her 50s, Ms. Burns had become the pride of Wichita, and in December 2013 the mayor announced a celebration Carla Burns Week.

In Wichita, she taught private voice lessons on an old cherry wood piano that is said to have been played by Duke Ellington, and kept her Olivier Prize statue in her living room.

Ms. Burns Experience In 2007, he had trouble breathing and went to the doctor. An X-ray showed he had a goiter growing about 10 pounds in his neck, and he was told he needed an emergency thyroidectomy. A few days before the operation, her windpipe broke and she lay flat for a while. When Ms. Burns woke up after surgery, she discovered she could never speak again, let alone sing.

To communicate, he wrote messages on paper. Slowly she whispered and soon began working with a speech therapist to learn how to use her voice again. A year later, she sang her first few notes.

“It doesn’t make sense to me, I don’t know why this is happening,” she said in a local television interview. “But I know that if I don’t try, if I don’t put my foot forward, I’m never going to do it again.”

Carla Arneta Burns was born on December 24, 1954, in Wichita. His father, Willie, died at the age of 7. His mother, Katherine (Scott) Burns, was a seamstress. He attended Wichita West High School and graduated from Wichita State University in 1981.

His sister is his only immediate survivor.

In 2011, Mr Burns was set to perform again. he made her return back The lead role (usually played by a man) of Pseudolus in Wichita in a small theater production of Stephen Sondheim’s “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”. The show sold out and his fans were eagerly waiting to see him on the opening night.

Ms. Burns finally took the stage, and a powerful voice emerged.



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