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Alvino Rey & The King Sisters
Alvino Rey & The King Sisters

In 1953 our whole life would change. Al came down with a virus flu that left a lingering cough. He had been working long hours on a television show that Alvino Rey and the King Sisters were doing. Now he wished to leave town to set up the Horace Heidt Orchestra for a road tour. It was the first time I ever made a scene over his decision. He promised to return as soon as the band was polished for the show. Al was a very conscientious, dependable musical director.

I recall how tired he looked when Diane and I met him at the airport. He did not fight my call to our family internist. Entering the hospital for tests, he was still optimistic that it was a simple problem. Neither of us was prepared for the results. He had lung cancer! On the heels of this crushing news, I lost the baby. Together, we had foreseen a struggle to establish him in the musical world, but this we had never imagined. Now our unfulfilled dreams rose to meet us. Without our deep spiritual reserve and the charm of the little girl we both loved so deeply, we could not have faced the year.

Our family and friends rallied around us. A trip to Memorial Hospital in New York City for a consultation was arranged by the Reverend Edward Miller Jr., rector of St. George's Episcopal Church and brother of Martha Miller Burt, John's wife. The hospitality offered us softened the prognosis - Al had six months to a year to live!

"Our friends..."


Al gave up the trumpet first, then the piano, but his creative mind was active to the end. He went from a wheelchair to a hospital bed in our bedroom. My nursing background afforded him free nursing care. Together we worked on the music; together he and Diane shared moments to last her a lifetime; and together he and I hurried to beat the final deadline--death.


Our friends in the music business, hearing of the outcome of our trip to New York, alerted James Conkling, brother-in-law of the King Sisters and president of Columbia Records, of the urgency of Al's condition. Jim wanted to record the carols. Now the wheels were put into motion. It gave Al a goal those last few months.


Wihla Hutson
Wihla Hutson

(Click here to read more about Wihla Hutson)


Wihla was asked to write four new verses for the recording. Wihla told me that all she needed was Al's request and the words flowed so fast she could hardly write them down. "We'll Dress the House", "O, Hearken Ye", "Caroling, Caroling", and "The Star Carol" awaited music.
A volunteer chorus of the finest singers in Hollywood met in the North Hollywood Mormon Church, organized by the King Sisters, Buddy Cole, and Jimmy Joyce. Al's wheelchair could easily enter from the parking lot into the auditorium where he lead the first demonstration taping. In our home, over a cup of hot chocolate, Al reviewed the session, thrilled at the turnout for him, the lovely voices on the tape, and the fact something he had written would be released. "This is the happiest day of my life," he remarked. There was no jealousy on my part; Al's first love would always be music.
Momentum continued. Christmas 1953, we chose the triumphant hymn "O, Hearken Ye" as our family card. It was chosen as much to bolster our spirits as those of our friends and family. Al was very tired; the cobalt treatment was taking its toll. But his spirit was high!


Jimmy Joyce
Jimmy Joyce

On February 5, 1954, Al completed his final carol. Asking Jimmy Joyce to check it for him on our Steinway, Al listened carefully to the notes. Jimmy and I were enthralled with the beauty and purity of "The Star Carol". But the "Professor," as the men in the band dubbed him, perfectionist to a note, changed the tenor line in the last few bars. Then he was satisfied. There was no denying the closeness of death. The carol was a prelude that Al knew; it was so simple in its musical character. Tired of the battle against the inevitable, Al and I shared our thoughts that last evening. He asked two things of me, to care for his music and his daughter. These promises have been kept.

His death came the next afternoon in an ambulance enroute to a hospital. Ironically, the signed contract from Columbia Records arrived by special messenger just an hour after his death. His mortal life had ended, but his musical life would begin.
On August 14, 1954, we gathered once more in Marquette. After a simple service in St. Paul's Chapel, John gave the final blessing, pouring a handful of sand taken from the beach in front of Furugaard into the grave. We had returned Al to the place where his life had begun. He was just 33 years of age. Today, three tall pine trees mark the resting place of those we placed there.
Christmas 1954, as I sat addressing the final Christmas card, "The Star Carol", I realized that I had lost not only a husband, a life-style, and a musical friend, but a Christmas card as well. The red, green, and white card was the loveliest card we had ever sent. It was signed simply, "Anne and Diane." Inside I tucked a note telling of the end of our tradition with Al's death and the release of the music for all to enjoy. Our legacy of love was our gift of music to the world that Christmas.


"The secret of joy out of sorrow and gain out of loss is all there in the message of Christmas."

--Bates G. Burt, in the 1945 Christmas card--


Since then the music of Alfred S. Burt has taken its place in the heritage of American music. It is impossible to relate the wonderful growth the carols have had. Their acceptance in concert halls, churches, schools, on radio and television, and in homes around the world truly delights our family. It was not easy those first years, hearing the familiar strains and realizing our loss; but as time has lessened our grief, we proudly face the Christmas season, knowing the carols will recall the memories of our life with the composer.

Diane Burt 
Diane Burt

Diane, an actress-singer and musical director, finds her father in his music. Her Caroling Company in turn-of-the-century costume, sings the Burt music along with the old familiar carols. How pleased her father would be to know his daughter is following in his footsteps.

Diane Burt

We are grateful to the many friends, known and unknown, who have kept Al's memory alive through his music. When you hear the Alfred S. Burt carols, Diane and I wish you and yours a very merry, musical Christmas and the blessing of peace and love in the New Year. For us, we will be remembering the past, keeping the words of Al's final carol in our hearts:

"And when the stars in the heavens I see,

Ever and always I'll think of thee."


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