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Robert Burton, prof renowned as musical conductor, dies at 78

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Robert L. Burton, distinguished professor emeritus of conducting in Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s school of church music, died Oct. 8 after a brief bout with cancer. He was 78.

Southwestern Seminary inaugurated the Robert L. Burton Chair of Conducting in 2001 as the first endowed chair in the music school.

Born in Little Rock, Ark., Burton displayed a love for music as a young person, studying piano, clarinet and conducting during his public school years.

After serving as a pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, he entered Louisiana State University on a band scholarship and completed three degrees at the university, including a master of music degree. Burton also earned a doctor of music degree with distinction from Indiana University.

While at LSU, Burton served as minister of music at Immanuel Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, played in the Baton Rouge Symphony and conducted company choruses for the Esso Standard Oil and Ethyl Corporation.

He later served as the first fulltime minister of music for First Baptist Church in Brookhaven, Miss., and the first fulltime minister of music at First Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn.

In 1956, Burton came to Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, where he served as chairman of the music education department until his appointment to the chair of the conducting department in 1958. He served in that capacity until he retired in 1990.

As chairman of the conducting department and director of ensemble activities at Southwestern, Burton conducted the Southwestern Singers, the Oratorio Chorus; supervised conducting projects and theses; and taught conducting classes and seminars.

The Southwestern Singers toured each semester throughout the United States, singing before churches and professional and civic organizations. The Oratorio Chorus presented a minimum of two concerts with orchestra per year. Its ministry was extended to the Fort Worth community through concerts with the Fort Worth Symphony in various local churches. Burton and members of the Oratorio Chorus also participated in international tours in Israel and Jordan, presenting a command performance concert for King Hussein of Jordan in the Royal Cultural Palace in Amman.

Burton served as guest conductor for the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and was chorus master for the symphony in major concerts involving choirs from Southwestern Seminary, Texas Christian University and Texas Wesleyan University.

In 1989, Burton was appointed distinguished professor of conducting in the school of church music. In 1990, the Southern Baptist Church Music Conference presented Burton with the Lifetime Membership Award. After 11 years of retirement, he assumed a post as a visiting professor of music at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., for the 2001-02 academic year.

Burton is survived by his wife of 54 years, Rosemary, three children and their spouses and three grandchildren.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: ROBERT BURTON and JOYOUS PASSION.

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