Friday, November 23, 2018

New York Times: Blanche Burton-Lyles, Pianist and Flame Keeper, Dies at 85

The Curtis Institute of Music class of 1953. Blanche Burton-Lyles, second from right in the first row, was the first black female pianist to receive a degree there.  Credit Curtis Archives

Ms. Burton-Lyles in an undated photo.
Credit National Marian Anderson Museum

The New York Times

November 20, 2018

Blanche Burton-Lyles, an accomplished classical pianist who devoted much of her energy later in life to preserving the legacy of the woman whom she called her mentor, the opera singer Marian Anderson, died on Nov. 12 in Philadelphia. She was 85.

Jillian Patricia Pirtle, Ms. Burton-Lyles’s successor as overseer of the National Marian Anderson Museum in Philadelphia, said the cause was heart failure.

Ms. Burton-Lyles had an extensive performing career that began when she was a child. It included a Young People’s Concert in November 1947, when she was 14, at Carnegie Hall, at which she played with the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Rudolph Ganz. The museum’s biography of her says she was the first black female pianist to perform with the orchestra at Carnegie.

Blanche Henrietta Burton was born on March 2, 1933, in Philadelphia. Her father, Anthony, worked for the Post Office. Her musical talent came from her mother, Anna Blanche (Taylor) Burton, a piano teacher and accompanist who sometimes played at the Union Baptist Church, where the young Marian Anderson did some of her earliest singing.

Ms. Burton-Lyles was a child prodigy, reading and playing classical music from an early age. Her mother would sometimes bring her to gatherings at Anderson’s house, where she would play for visitors, black celebrities among them, who would gather there after Anderson’s performances in the city. Decades later, Ms. Burton-Lyles would buy that house and turn it into a museum devoted to Anderson’s life and career. She ran it, generally on a shoestring, until her death.

“Marian Anderson was a gorgeous lady, soft-spoken, so elegant she reminded you of the queen of Egypt, Nefertiti,” Ms. Burton-Lyles told a reporter for The Courier-Post of New Jersey in 2004 as she gave a tour. “When she walked through the doorway into this house, she appeared to be eight feet tall.”

On the recommendation of Anderson, Ms. Burton-Lyles was given early admission to the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. She received a bachelor’s degree there in 1953. Although three black women had received diplomas or degrees in voice there earlier, she was the first black female pianist to receive a degree, the institute said.

Ms. Burton-Lyles, who married Thurman Lyles in 1956, performed throughout the 1950s and ’60s, in England and Spain as well as the United States.

“Playing the piano seemed to come easily to Miss Burton,” Raymond Ericson wrote in reviewing a 1961 concert at Town Hall for The New York Times, “and the music flowed out from beneath her fingers gently and fluidly. She could play swiftly, with seldom a note out of place, and the tone was unfailingly pretty.”

No comments: