Alfred Burt was born in 1920 into the family of Bates Burt, an Episcopal minister and amateur musician from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Alfred showed musical talent at a young age, an interest which took shape when he received a trumpet at the age of 10. While along the way he also learned to play piano, his primary interest was in playing both classical and jazz music on trumpet.
When Alfred was still quite young, his father began what became a decades-long family tradition of creating homemade cards to send to family and parishioners each Christmas. What made these cards unique was that they included a new Christmas carol penned by Alfred’s father. Twenty years later, in 1942, Bates felt it was time to pass the tradition down to his son, a recent graduate of the University of Michigan with a degree in music. Alfred ended up writing a total of 15 carols for the family before his untimely death from lung cancer in 1954.
While Alfred Burt’s carols began as small works of art created in a family’s living room, they have since been recognized as an American treasure, and have helped define what we recognize as the sound of Christmas music today. As family and friends received Alfred’s annual carols, their appreciation began to grow. The fame of these carols began to take off even during Burt’s lifetime, so much so that the first 12 were recorded by Columbia Records and released within months of Burt’s death in Dec of 1954 on a 10” vinyl record entitled “The Christmas Mood”. Burt finished the last of his carols 2 days before his death in February of 1954 and it was sent out posthumously in the Burt Family’s final Christmas card that December. But this was just the beginning of the fame of these carols. Since Burt’s death, they have gone on to be recorded by a host of professional artists such as Fred Waring, Nat King Cole, Simon and Garfunkel, Julie Andrews, Kenny Loggins, James Taylor, and John Williams.
ChoralSong is honored to perform 3 of Burt’s carols this year in our first Christmas concert: Nigh Bethlehem (1947), Carol of the Mother (written in 1949 in honor of Burt’s unborn child), and Come Dear Children (1952).