Hundreds of mourners on Jan. 2 paid their last respect to Guyanese-born baritone extraordinaire Monte Burke, who died on Dec. 27 after a brief illness. He was 85.
Mourners at Fenimore Street United Methodist Church paid tributes in songs, words and musical instruments to the man, who they said was also a jazz singer, “fashion statement” and role model for the younger generation.
“Monte embraced the new commandment of Jesus Christ – ‘Love One Another,’” said the Guyanese-born Rev. Dr. William Lloyd Andries in his eulogy.
“He was kind and always willing to help others,” he added. “His charismatic and vivacious personality permeated the surroundings. He respected everyone, and this was reciprocal.
“He was a role model for younger men,” Father Andries continued. “He was open-minded. He captured many audiences. Monte was a jazz connoisseur. He was an evangelist by virtue of his contribution. He had done a marvelous work while he was here.”
Opera singer Juanita Faulkner, who paid tribute to Burke with “Panis Angelicus” and “The Holy City,” said she “had the privilege to sing with Monte many, many times.
“Monte was not intimidated,” she said. “We’d do romantic duets. In stature, he was short, but I thought he was singing to a 7 ft. giant.”
Educator Dr. Marguerite Thompson, president of the Allied Association of Guyana, U.S.A., of which Burke was an active member, read a proclamation, describing him as a “community person” and “a lion.”
Yet, she said he was “one of the most humble peoples” she’d ever met, adding that there wasn’t a “Silent Supper” at Fenimore Street United Methodist Church without him. Dr. Thompson and Burke were prominent members of the church.
“This man made it when there were not many Black men in banking,” Thompson said. “He was honorable. He’s resting in peace because he’d worked hard for his family.”
Vincentian Registered Nurse Cynthia Grant, president of the Chancel Choir at Fenimore Street United Methodist Church, of which Burke was a member, said members will especially remember him during “Silent Supper.”
She added that Burke was always “impeccably dressed.”
Guyanese lawyer and community activist Colin Moore said it would be a “travesty of justice” if he did not pay tribute to Burke, who he met 25 years ago at the People’s Cathedral, where he did a rendition of the “Allelujah Chorus.”
“Not only was he a great vocalist, but he was a talented individual,” he said. “He had a very extensive personality. Monte was a very sharing personality.
“Monte had hope of Job,” Moore added. “Monte, you have fought a good fight.”
Montague “Monte” Aubrey Castillo Burke, affectionately called “Uncle Monte,” was born on Nov. 27, 1927 in New Amsterdam, Berbice, Guyana.
His mother, Adele Adams, died when he was only three months old. He was thus raised by his grandmother, Wilhelmina Faulkner.
At 10, Burke began singing at Frank Memorial Church in New Amsterdam under the tutelage of Verna Giles.
Soon, he joined the Nams Choir and continued training under Ruby McGregor.