JACKSON, Tenn. – Oct. 9, 2003 – Robert Burton, one of the Southern Baptist Convention's most noted musicians died Oct. 8 following a battle with cancer. Burton was the former chair of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's conducting department and served as visiting professor of music at Union University for the academic year 2001-2002.
Burton joined Southwestern's faculty in 1956 as chair of the music education department and retired in 1990 as chair of the conducting department. He was appointed distinguished professor of conducting in 1989. During his years of service he conducted Southwestern's Oratorio Chorus, including a command performance in 1972 for King Hussein of Jordan in the Royal Cultural Palace in Amman, Jordan. Burton was instrumental in developing the Seminary's conducting program, initiating the use of video in classrooms, conducting labs, practice teaching, and student tutors.
Union University President David S. Dockery said, "Dr. Robert Burton was a great gift to Southern Baptist music and a mentor to thousands of students who loved him deeply. We thank God for his life and the special relationship that the Union family enjoyed with him and Mrs. Burton. He will be greatly missed."
In 2001 the seminary inaugurated the Robert L. Burton Chair of Conducting as the first endowed chair of the School of Church Music.
Former Southwestern President Kenneth S. Hemphill installed the chair during an investiture and presentation of the medallion ceremony. The Burton Chair was funded through the Bowld Charitable Trust, part of the estate of seminary alum Kathryn Sullivan Bowld.
Burton, a native of Little Rock, Ark., began his music training early with piano and clarinet studies during his public school years. His conducting experience started as a student conductor in school bands and orchestras. After serving as a pilot in the Army Air Corps during World War II, he entered Louisiana State University where he completed three degrees.
Burton conducted the Southwestern Singers, the Oratorio Chorus, and supervised conducting projects and theses. He also taught Conducting classes and seminars. The Southwestern Singers toured each semester throughout the United States singing before organizations like as the Music Educators National Conference National Conventions, the American Choral Directors Association, civic organizations and churches. The Oratorio Chorus presented a minimum of two concerts with orchestra per year. Its ministry was extended to the community of Fort Worth, giving concerts with the Fort Worth Symphony and churches in various parts of the city. It also performed with the Houston Baptist Association Choir and the Houston Youth Orchestra in special multi-media presentations of Messiah. Members of the Oratorio Chorus also participated in international tours to Israel and Jordan.
Burton has 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 1990 the Southern Baptist Church Music Conference presented Burton with the Lifetime Membership Award, and in 2001 conferred upon him the Hines Sims Award.