Burt Family History

A Legacy of Love

by Anne Shortt Burt

Alfred Shaddick Burt

Alfred Shaddick Burt (1920-1954)

Coat of Arms Burt Family
Coat of Arms
Burt Family



On the pine-covered shores of Lake Superior in the upper peninsula of Michigan nestles the small town of Marquette. It sits in a wonderland of natural beauty with vast virgin forests, streams, rock formations, and wild floral foliage. Winter places a deep blanket of snow over the countryside; but spring bursts out, bringing new life and an array of color. Here on April 22, 1920, the composer, Alfred Shaddick Burt, was born.

Bates Gilbert Burt
Bates Gilbert Burt
(to enlarge click on the image)

Alfred's arrival at the rectory next to St. Paul's Episcopal Church on High Street was heralded by his father, the Reverend Bates Gilbert Burt, his mother, Emily May, a 12-year-old sister, Frances Deborah, and a two-year-old brother, John Harris. A close-knit family, active in community as well as church life, the Burts found time to enjoy their campsite on the shore of the lake in an area called Middle Island Point. A two-story frame home, christened "Furugaard," was built among the towering pines. Its picture window gave a panoramic view of the lake. No matter where the Burts traveled they would return to this spot for rest and inspiration.

In 1922 Father Burt accepted a call to the parish of All Saints' Episcopal Church in Pontiac, Michigan. For the next 25 years this industrial, manufacturing city would be home. Al grew up in the shadow of the lofty, brick tower of the church. His activities centered around the church calendar. He attended Sunday school, sang in the choir, served as an acolyte, and used the church gymnasium as his playground. It was a busy, but happy household in those formative years.


Through Father Burt's creative talents, the tradition began of sending an original carol as a Christmas card to friends and parishioners. He wrote both the music of the season and the words of faith from 1922 to 1941. The carols were as natural an expression of the Burt Christmas as the spicy tree in the rectory or Mother Burt's famous plum pudding.

As a self-taught musician, Father Burt was delighted when Al began to show an interest in music. When Al was 10 years of age, he received his first instrument, a "silver trumpet" (really a cornet), as a bribe to enter the local hospital for an appendectomy. He learned the fingering while recuperating. This horn would take him into bands, orchestras, and state competitions, where he would win many awards and become known as a "child prodigy." He also studied piano, but never felt it was his major instrument.

Al's first compositions were fanfares for the church festivals of Easter and Christmas. One of his most ardent admirers was the church organist, Wihla Hutson. Sharing the intracacies of the church pipe organ, she and Al became great musical friends. She was a guest in the rectory on many a Christmas Eve, when, after the midnight service, she was unable to travel the icy roads to her home in Detroit. A family tradition of stocking presents accompanied by an original poem introduced the Burts to her talent for verse. As "part of the family" she watched with avid interest Al's musical growth over the years.

During high school days, Al enjoyed a wide range of musical expression, but it was the new modern idiom of jazz that fascinated him the most. He formed a dance band, which was featured at church functions; and his family tolerated a set of trap drums in the rectory attic. His father discussed many times Al's feelings for this new form of music, not fully understanding his interest, but never discouraging him.


Al chose the University of Michigan School of Music in Ann Arbor for his formal education. Here he participated in the famed marching band and was the first freshman to qualify for first chair on cornet. His classical background was accomplished in the Little Symphony, the Symphony Orchestra, and the jazz expression in the dance orchestra at the Michigan Union. Graduating in 1942 with a Bachelor of Music degree, Al was chosen as an outstanding theory student. His disciplined, well-rounded foundation in musical composition would enhance his God-given abilities.

University of Michigan Danceband
University of Michigan
(to enlarge click on the image)

"For the family card that year..."


For the family card that year Al was invited by his father to write the musical setting for the carol,"0, Christmas Cometh Caroling". Father Burt had discovered the text in a small book of carols by Father Andrew, an English Catholic priest. As Al's hometown sweetheart, I was there that eventful day in November when Al's father reminded Al of the deadline for the printing of the card. Al had not yet set the lyrics to music. He asked me if I minded waiting, then went to the family Steinway and in 15 minutes wrote the music that began a father-son team.

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