November 2013: Dr. Lisa Edwards-Burrs


Not many musicians can say that they’ve performed the national anthem for the President of the United States. Nor can many musicians say that their composer brother-in-law invited them to sing on an original opera. In addition to her work as an educator, Soprano Edwards-Burrs is an accomplished performer. In articles and reviews, her voice has been praised for its “crystalline beauty,” regularly performing classical and sacred music, as well as her hallmark — opera.

Dr. Edwards-Burrs received a Bachelor of Music (B.M.) in Vocal Performance and a Master of Music (M.M.) in Vocal Performance from Virginia Commonwealth University. She earned her Doctorate of Music Arts (D.M.A.) in Vocal Performance from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. When asked about the experience of getting her doctorate, she relayed her experience of commuting from Richmond to D.C. several times a week for classes.

Upon arriving at VCU as an undergraduate, Dr. Edwards-Burrs knew teaching was in the cards – declaring a music education major early on in her academic career. Eventually, she switched to performance, wanting to develop and train her voice more. From attending VCU, she noted that she felt prepared for both a career and life immersed in music. “You need to be ready for opportunities that present themselves,” she said, noting that studying at VCU not only imparted upon her good technique, but professionalism and the ability to “do well wherever you end up.” Studying under VCU’s former chair and founder of VCU Opera, L. Wayne Batty, she was sure to continue to develop a strong work ethic. Batty worked at VCU for 58 years before retiring.

And that work ethic shows through in her dedication to her craft. When asked what her most interesting performance was, Edwards-Burrs stated that two weeks after her daughter Naima was born, she performed with the Richmond Symphony for their 4th of July celebration. Edwards-Burrs also displays this stellar work ethic through her service to universities. She is an Associate Professor at Virginia State University and an adjunct faculty member at Longwood University, driving over an hour each way to work with students at the Farmville campus. That doesn’t even include her weekend time when she sings at masses and church services throughout the Richmond area.

Recently, Dr. Edwards-Burrs performed Don Giovanni with the summer Garden Opera in Farmville, performed on St. James’ Episcopal Church’s summer program, and traveled with the choir to Venice, Florence, and Rome, Italy from June to July. With Virginia’s celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Dr. Edwards-Burrs performed with the Richmond Symphony and Chorus in April. The groups were joined by a large choir featuring students from more than 20 college and universities, including some VCU Music students, to commemorate the anniversary.

As soprano soloist that day, Edwards-Burrs  performed as part of the premiere of the original piece, “Emancipation Overture,” written by Virginia Union University’s Willis L. Barnett. The concert was broadcast on PBS stations throughout the country.

As an alumna of VCU, Edwards-Burrs has also passed the Black and Gold spirit onto her three children. Two of her children are graduates of VCU. Her son Guy graduated from VCU’s Business School and her daughter, Naima, recently graduated from VCU Music. Her youngest son, Morgan, is on the hunt for his post-secondary home and is considering the university.

Want to catch Dr. Edwards-Burrs in concert soon? Come out to the VCU Holiday Gala on Friday, December 6 at 7:30pm where she will be singing with The VCU Guitar Ensemble and the VCU Community Guitar Ensemble.

-Raina Fields