Marquette’s Christmas Caroling Burt Family

The following information is taken from my book My Marquette in the section about St. Paul’s Episcopal Church:

St. Paul's Episcopal Church where Rev. Bates Burt was minister

Marquette’s Christmas Carol writing Burt family began in Marquette with the Reverend Bates Burt who was minister of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in the early 1900s. During the time Rev. Burt was St. Paul’s minister, the church’s former Guild Hall was constructed in 1907. Surprisingly, Marquette had two Burt families who were  not related to each other, the other family including surveyor William Austin Burt, who made the famous iron ore find that resulted in Marquette, Negaunee, and Ishpeming being established.

Although Reverend Burt would later move his family downstate, his children, born in Marquette, would make their hometown proud. Son Alfred Burt would become a famous composer of Christmas Carols. The tradition began with his father, who composed a carol every year for his Christmas card, but Alfred was the one who made the family tradition famous nationally. Although Alfred Burt’s life was cut short in 1954, he would write at least fifteen well known carols, including “Caroling, Caroling.” His carols have been recorded by such famous artists as Tennessee Ernie Ford, Julie Andrews, and Nat King Cole. Reprinted her is one of the Burt Christmas Cards with permission from Emily Bates Burt.

Alfred Burt's 1951 Christmas Card that included the carol "Some Children See Him"

Bates Burt’s daughter, Deborah, was also very musical. She moved to Milwaukee where she taught music for many years using the Suzuki method. Another of Rev. Burt’s sons, John H. Burt, followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming first a minister and then eighth Episcopal Bishop of Ohio. As a leading voice for social justice, Bishop John Burt worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Rally for Freedom in Los Angeles, California, even having a bomb threat made on his home for his efforts for civil rights. Later, he would stand up for the right of women to become priests in the Episcopal Church, declaring he would resign if the Episcopal General Convention failed to approve it in 1976. Once women’s ordination was approved, Burt ordained eight women as priests during his years as Bishop of Ohio. Both Burt brothers are buried in the family plot in Park Cemetery.

The Burt brothers’ descendants, although they don’t reside in Marquette, remain closely linked to the town and the family’s Christmas Carol tradition. Alfred Burt’s daughter, Diane Bates Burt, founded “The Caroling Company” in California, and with her husband Nick D’Amico, they released the CD “A Christmas Present from the Caroling Company” which contains eight carols by her father. Bishop John Burt’s granddaughter, Abbie Betinis, today carries on the family tradition by composing an annual original Christmas Carol and her mother, Emily Burt Betinis, illustrates the Christmas cards. Abbie has been featured on Minnesota Public Radio, has received several awards, and been commissioned by numerous music organizations to compose works for them to perform. Her music is featured on six commercially available recordings. More information about this former Marquette musical family can be found at www.abbiebetinis.com and www.alfredburtcarols.com. You can view all the original Christmas cards at www.alfredburtcarols.com as well as purchase the “Alfred Burt Christmas Carols” Golden Anniversary edition.

Merry Christmas to All!

Tyler Tichelaar

My Marquette: Explore the Queen City of the North - Its History, People, and Places

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