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Blanche Burton-Lyles

Accomplished concert pianist and music educator Blanche Henrietta Burton-Lyles was born on March 2, 1933 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her father sang bass in the choir at Union Baptist Church which was also attended by her mentor, Marian Anderson who encouraged her young protégé to pursue a career in classical music. Marian Anderson invited Burton-Lyles to entertain guests in her home many times. By age seven, Burton-Lyles was considered a child prodigy, and in 1944, at age 11, she received an unlimited scholarship to study piano at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music. The first African American female pianist to play at Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in 1947, Burton-Lyles entered and won the Young Audiences Competition. In 1954, she graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music where she received her B.A. degree in music.

Continuing her studies and her professional career, Burton-Lyles performed at Yale University with the New Haven Symphony and performed for fifteen years with Leroy Bostic and the Mellow Aires. In 1963, she joined the Philadelphia Board of Education as a teacher. She continued her own studies and received her B.A. degree in music education in 1971 from Temple University. Burton-Lyles retired from teaching in 1993 and became the founder and President of the Marian Anderson Historical Society, Inc. She acquired both of Anderson’s historical residences in 1998 and Anderson’s birthplace in 2000. Burton-Lyles, who has made it her mission to preserve Anderson’s legacy, maintains both sites, which houses memorabilia, rare photos, books, and paintings relating to the contralto’s life. The Anderson Residence/Museum also offers musical programs, lectures, audio-visual presentations and even private lessons.

Burton-Lyles is the recipient of numerous performance awards and humanitarian honors. These include the Shirley Chisholm Philadelphia Political Congress of Black Women Award for Achievement in Music in 1994 and the National Black Music Caucus Award for Outstanding Women in Music in 1995. For preserving Marian Anderson’s legacy, Burton-Lyles has received the Mary McLeod Bethune Award from the National Council of Negro Women, 2000; Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.’s highest honor – the Sadie T. Alexander Award, 2005; Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.’s Edythe Ingram Award, 2006; the Martin Luther King, Jr. Drum Major Cultural Award, 2007; and the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Unsung Hero Award at Carnegie Hall, 2007. She was also honored with the Philadelphia 76ers’ Community Service All-Star Award in 2004. For well over forty years, Burton-Lyles has enjoyed a multi-faceted career in classical music and continues to groom young classical vocal artists.

Burton-Lyles lives in Philadelphia with her family and is a member of Union Baptist Church where her mentor Marian Anderson sang as a child.

Burton-Lyles passed away on November 12, 2018.

Burton-Lyles was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on December 18, 2006.

Accession Number

A2006.179

Sex

Female

Interview Date

12/18/2006

Last Name

Burton-Lyles

Maker Category
Schools

Temple University

Curtis Institute of Music

Ornstein's School of Music

Temple University High School

Horace Howard Furness Junior High School

First Name

Blanche

Birth City, State, Country

Philadelphia

HM ID

BUR16

Favorite Season

Christmas, Easter

State

Pennsylvania

Favorite Vacation Destination

Islands

Favorite Quote

You Must Be Kidding.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Pennsylvania

Birth Date

3/2/1933

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Philadelphia

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Salmon

Death Date

11/12/2018

Short Description

Cultural heritage chief executive and pianist Blanche Burton-Lyles (1933 - 2018 ) was the founder of the Marian Anderson Historical Society. She was also the first black female pianist to play at New York City's Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.

Employment

School District of Philadelphia

The O.V. Catto School

Marian Anderson Historical Society, Inc.

Marian Anderson Historical Residence Museum

Favorite Color

Purple

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Blanche Burton-Lyles' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Blanche Burton-Lyles lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Blanche Burton-Lyles describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Blanche Burton-Lyles describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Blanche Burton-Lyles describes her mother's musical background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Blanche Burton-Lyles describes her parents' professions

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Blanche Burton-Lyles describes her earliest childhood memories

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Blanche Burton-Lyles recalls her neighborhood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Blanche Burton-Lyles recalls her early musical influences

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Blanche Burton-Lyles recalls her musical education

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Blanche Burton-Lyles remembers her mother's music students

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Blanche Burton-Lyles remembers her father's musical talent

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Blanche Burton-Lyles reflects upon the role of music in her life

Tape: 1 Story: 14 - Blanche Burton-Lyles recalls her mother's music recitals

Tape: 1 Story: 15 - Blanche Burton-Lyles recalls her studies at the Ornstein School of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Blanche Burton-Lyles recalls her early experiences of racial discrimination

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Blanche Burton-Lyles describes Marian Anderson's residences

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Blanche Burton-Lyles recalls her studies at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Blanche Burton-Lyles talks about her experiences at the Curtis Institute of Music

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Blanche Burton-Lyles remembers lessons from her mother

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Blanche Burton-Lyles talks about the discrimination faced by Marian Anderson

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Blanche Burton-Lyles recalls the Temple University High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Blanche Burton-Lyles remembers playing with the Philadelphia Concert Orchestra

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Blanche Burton-Lyles describes her relationship with Marian Anderson

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Blanche Burton-Lyles describes the Marian Anderson Historical Residence Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Blanche Burton-Lyles recalls her experiences of discrimination at the Philadelphia Orchestra

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Blanche Burton-Lyles recalls her performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Blanche Burton-Lyles remembers touring the country clubs in Pennsylvania

Tape: 2 Story: 14 - Blanche Burton-Lyles talks about Marian Anderson's career abroad

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Blanche Burton-Lyles talks about notable African American classical musicians

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Blanche Burton-Lyles remembers her first piano recital

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Blanche Burton-Lyles recalls notable African American female pianists

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Blanche Burton-Lyles recalls the support of the black musical community

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Blanche Burton-Lyles describes her experiences of racial discrimination as a teacher

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Blanche Burton-Lyles recalls performing with the New York Philharmonic

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Blanche Burton-Lyles describes Marian Anderson's performance at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Blanche Burton-Lyles describes a fundraiser for the Marian Anderson Historical Society, Inc.

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Blanche Burton-Lyles recalls her teaching positions

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Blanche Burton-Lyles describes the importance of musical education

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Blanche Burton-Lyles talks about her sense of fashion

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Blanche Burton-Lyles describes her family's relationship with Marian Anderson

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Blanche Burton-Lyles describes the misconceptions about Marian Anderson

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Blanche Burton-Lyles recalls her tour of the historically black colleges and universities

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Blanche Burton-Lyles describes her sponsorship of young singers

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Blanche Burton-Lyles talks about her work to preserve Marian Anderson's legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Blanche Burton-Lyles describes the sponsorship program at the Marian Anderson Historical Society, Inc.

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Blanche Burton-Lyles talks about the Marian Anderson Historical Society, Inc.

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Blanche Burton-Lyles describes the former participants in the Marian Anderson Historical Society, Inc.'s sponsorship program

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Blanche Burton-Lyles talks about the relationship between musicians and audiences

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Blanche Burton-Lyles describes her plans for the Marian Anderson Heritage Village in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Blanche Burton-Lyles describes the importance of travel for musical education

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Blanche Burton-Lyles talks about the music industry

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Blanche Burton-Lyles describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 4 Story: 13 - Blanche Burton-Lyles talks about her recent performances

Tape: 4 Story: 14 - Blanche Burton-Lyles describes the importance of musical education in the black community

Tape: 4 Story: 15 - Blanche Burton-Lyles reflects upon her life

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Blanche Burton-Lyles recalls advocating for the Marian Anderson commemorative stamp

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Blanche Burton-Lyles talks about Marian Anderson's role in the March on Washington

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Blanche Burton-Lyles reflects upon her career

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Blanche Burton-Lyles narrates her photographs

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Blanche Burton-Lyles plays the piano, pt. 1

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Blanche Burton-Lyles shares her Sadie T.M. Alexander May Week Award

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Blanche Burton-Lyles plays the piano, pt. 2

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$4

DAStory

12$4

DATitle
Blanche Burton-Lyles recalls her performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City
Blanche Burton-Lyles talks about her work to preserve Marian Anderson's legacy
Transcript
Who entered you into that concert?$$Well my teacher at Curtis [Curtis Institute of Music, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania], 'cause I was still at, at yes I was still at Curtis, I was right in the midst of my learning there. And she says, "I think you have a good chance," and so I went and made the finals it was on WQXR [WQXR Radio, Newark, New Jersey] broadcast station in New York [New York]. And Miss Anderson [Marian Anderson], there's a write-up upstairs, Miss Anderson invited my mother [Blanche Taylor Burton] and me to come here to hear the finals that had been taped. It was a record player in the corner you know a floor model right in that corner, in fact there's a picture of this house of her sitting there in '51 [1951] Phyllis [Phyllis Sims] has it somewhere. And she said, "Well I want to stay here together," and we thought, but that's when we heard it--oh I was, and so mother, mother she winked at me, you know, not to get too excited (laughter). She said, "She's a child," of course I was probably sixteen something like that, and then I heard that and the winner is Blanche Henrietta Burton [HistoryMaker Blanche Burton-Lyles] of Philadelphia [Pennsylvania]. Well there was this Jewish lady, she said, "But you heard my daughter, she was out--." They said, "Yes, she was. But Blanche is number one," (laughter) 'cause that was the pride, you know, that was oh, it was in The Bulletin, which was the paper at the time, New York Times [The New York Times]. I was in the Musical of America [sic. Musical America] which was like the bible of musical magazines. And it said, "Young colored girl from Philadelphia winner, the first ever," (laughter), yeah. And Madame [Isabelle Vengerova] was right there in the audience, "Yes, she's my student," (laughter) she was very proud, very, she was just so sweet. But she, after about three years she told my mother, "You don't need to come to the lessons anymore because your pressure's going up." 'Cause she was very, very stern and mother, she said, "No, Blanche understands and she can write it down," she said but mother--, "You need to stay home," (laughter).$$Who was very stern?$$My mother.$$Your mother was very stern, so she (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Oh no, no, no, my, my teacher.$$Your teacher was very stern.$$My mother used to go to my lesson and she would write down, she would say, "She's going to have to remember on her own, stop writing." So she allowed me to have a notebook when I would go on my own, you know.$$So your mother was encouraging you (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Oh, always--$$--all along the way.$$Whenever I, she just, "Do your best, just do your best, um-hm. 'Cause you know what you're doing that's why you're up there on the stage and they're in the audience," oh yeah.$When did you become interested in preserving her legacy?$$Well shortly after I retired, I retired from teaching [from the School District of Philadelphia] in '92 [1992] technically, and I did some traveling. And I was saying there's so many singers, I would hear them say, "We can only do so much," and they didn't know which direction to go, many of them. And so I knew how wonderful Miss Anderson [Marian Anderson] had been to me and I said, I must do something to continue this. And to support and encourage these young people, so I got a few friends together. And now we have a large, I would say a revenue of people who want to know, what are you doing, how can we help, and that's the best thing to hear (laughter). And this event in September really reconfirmed my belief in doing this, and continuing it you know. So we're having some people who are in touch with the schools to bring more school children here. And they come over, they have their papers, they've been on the Internet (laughter) and they, "Oh yes we knew about the, this and we read it in here." 'Cause there are nine hundred boxes in the University of Penn [University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania] Marian Anderson collection, nine hundred she gave it. She gave them all her papers like sales slips, like for the kitchen she put six hundred dollars down in 1940. That kitchen only cost fifteen hundred when I say that, stainless steel kitchen in 1940; she saved receipts and different things. I'm glad she did; and how this, the floors were put down in 1926, I think and so she had such insight and foresight (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) So after you retired--$$Um-hm.$$--you were trying to think of something to do--$$Yes.$$--to preserve her legacy.$$Yeah.$$How did you come, how did you come back to the house and--?$$But see I only lived four blocks from here, and I go to church [Union Baptist Church, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania] almost regularly across the street, and I'd see different people sitting outside. And I, and I said, "Do you whose house you're living--?" It was rental property for nine years before I got it. And they said, "No, no one mentioned about Marian." I said, "Well this was her home." They took such good care of it, we haven't had to patch anything. This place was like this when we said, we had wall to wall carpet, and when I looked at it, I didn't mention to the realtor, I said, "Aren't there floors under here?" When I look around this step you can imagine I said, "Oh, it's still in good condition," and of course you saw the basement. And there was (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) And it, it was always your idea to restore it and have it become a historical--$$Yes, too that it become a museum like the Betsy Ross House [Philadelphia, Pennsylvania] and that's, and after we all take wings, we're forming an endowment those are the next plans for the next few months. To raise funds that the principal will remain, the interest just for preservation you know like pointing the back of the house, which it needs it bad. I hope the snow won't come in (laughter) and just paint up, we had just had a new pavement put out last week, we paid to put it in. It has those little pebbles which was from that period, early oh 1940s and so on; we wanna things within the integrity of the period. That's why that awning is the way you see it.$$So what is it about her legacy that you want to live on?$$Well about the lady herself, what a great lady she was, and the young people need to know she was not one who said, "Well she just came out of rehab." And you know you hear about some of the young artists, we know they have many more temptations. But she had them too, but she remained focused and that they learned that this great lady's art can be repeated and saved through these young performers. 'Cause there some spectacular voices out there, but mainly just need structure and guidance that you shouldn't be coming in at three o'clock in the morning (laughter) unless it's New Year's Eve.