Legendary symphony musician Charles Burrell recently celebrated his 102nd birthday.
According to 10news, Burrell, dubbed the Jackie Robinson of classical music, turned 102 in October. That day, he performed in front of a packed audience at Dazzle Jazz Club in downtown Denver.
“I didn’t think I would make it past 20,” Burrell said.
He also visited Charles Burrell’s Visual & Performing Arts Campus, a school in Colorado that’s been renamed in his honor. When he arrived, students were waiting for him out front and even sang “Happy Birthday,” WMAR 2 reported.
“I’m gonna cry,” an emotional Burrell said as he watched.
The now-102-year-old broke racial barriers many years ago, as he’s the first Black American musician to be hired under contract by a symphonic orchestra. He was hired as a member of the Denver Symphony Orchestra, now known as the Colorado Symphony.
Burrell said he was unsure where his passion for classical music came from, but it’s always been a part of him.
“I wish I could say and name it, but I can’t. It’s just overwhelming,” he said.
Jazz pianist Purnell Steen, who saw Burrell perform 73 years ago at his debut concert, cited him as an inspiration for his career.
“To see him step across that stage really impressed me. And the response he got was very nasty, and I was emotionally conflicted because I didn’t know what he did wrong,” Steen said. “He had to walk a tightrope because he knew there were people who despised him from both communities, from the Black community and the non-Black community. In the Black community, many people were jealous, and they thought that he had sold out his heritage.”
Thankfully, Burrell didn’t allow the criticisms to deter him and persevered. He continued to focus on his love for music.
“Just do the things you’re supposed to do, you know?” he said. “And don’t be a fool with what you’re doing. You know, respect other people.”
His seven-year-old grand-son, Lincoln Burrell, attends Charles Burrell’s Visual & Performing Arts Campus and is very proud.
“Everybody is just like, ‘Oh, my Gosh. You’re Charles’ great-grandson! Oh, my God!'” he boasted.
Happy 102nd birthday!