February 29, 2024

AMPD Professor Karen Burke’s Influence on Black Gospel Music Education in Canadian Academia

Karen Burke at 2018 Gospel Choir Concert

Over the years, Karen Burke – Chair of the Department of Music at York University and artistic director and co-founder of the Juno award-winning Toronto Mass Choir, has played a crucial role in shaping the landscape of Black gospel music education. Her efforts have played a significant role in creating a more inclusive and enriching academic environment that recognizes the importance of gospel music in the broader musical tapestry.  

In 2005, Burke established the first Black gospel music courses at York University, making YorkU the first Canadian university to offer specialized studies in Black Gospel Music.  

In a recent CBC Radio One interview, Darren Hamilton (BFA ’05 School of the Arts, Media, Performance & Design) named Burke as an important mentor. Building on Burke’s legacy, Hamilton, a Juno Award-winning assistant professor, initiated the University of Toronto’s first credit course in Black gospel music, providing students with a comprehensive understanding of Black history, culture, and music.

As a mentor to Hamilton, Burke emphasized the importance of recognizing gospel music in the broader context of African American musical traditions. She notes that studying jazz without understanding gospel is incomplete since the two are interconnected. 

Burke believes that the inclusion of gospel music in academic curricula is long overdue. She describes gospel music as “survival music,” highlighting its historical role in helping enslaved individuals escape to freedom.

Hamilton and Burke’s influential contributions and leadership in Black Gospel education exemplify the positive change emerging from York University and AMPD. 

Read the full article at: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/ideas/black-gospel-course-university-toronto-1.7118744