Kevin Burt: Transcript
Blues musician, Coralville
I am Kevin B. F. Burt. I am a rhythm and blues artist and educator. I got started with rhythm and blues performances, actually, kind of by accident. A person who is a great soul in my life, Ethyl Madison, was my boss. She heard me singing in my office one day and told me that I should meet with her son, who was starting a blues band. Well, it took a little while for me to get there. She invited me to dinner, and it ended up being a ruse to get me to a rehearsal. And I auditioned on the spot singing a song I was familiar with, but didn't know the words to. I was handed a piece of paper with the words to a song called “Down Home Blues.” I sang the song and immediately after was handed a book that was about two inches thick with lyrics to other blues songs and was very comfortable very quick.
The blues is for different people in different places defined uniquely. In the delta of Mississippi, the blues is, you know, the turmoil, the hard day, the mean woman, the tough boss. The blues in an urban setting, like Chicago, though it may incorporate some of those same things, it's also going to incorporate some different hardships, economic hardships, different social issues. But by-and-large everything that is blues, no matter where you go, no matter who you talk to, everything is emotion.
So for me as an Iowa-based blues artist, the emotion of my stories is what defines blues for me.
As a blues artist, an African American blues artist in Iowa, the biggest thing that I have is pride in knowing in my own education of what Iowa has meant to African Americans in terms of civil rights. Iowa has always been kind of, to the front, you know. Throughout history there's a lot of firsts for African American history that Iowa has provided, but never gets credit for. And as a blues artist from Iowa, once again, I'm faced with when I leave the borders of home—when I go to other places, and I present blues to a new audience in a new place, it's difficult for them to also be able to make the connection that there: number one, there are blacks in Iowa; number two, that there's a quality of blues that exists from here that hasn't been really presented to the world before. And it's another thing that I can take pride in as an African American male from Iowa.
As far as finding the courage to move away from a 9 to 5 position to being a self-employed musician, I think back to, I walked into my house one day, and I was greeted by my very pregnant wife. And I said to her, “Honey, I think it's time for me to pursue music full time.” And at that moment, she looked at me and said, “It's about time.”
The lesson that I learned right at that moment was you can't allow other people to have more faith in you than you're willing to have in yourself. And as soon as you do that, you realize failure is not an option.As a person who made the choice to make a transition from being a social worker community servant to blues performer, actually the transition really wasn't that difficult. I still provide a similar service to the community, trying to help people to find a way to fix or heal from whatever problems. As a social worker, that's what I did. As an artist, that's what you hope to do.