Salisbury’s piano man, Billy Burke, dies at 95

  • Posted: Thursday, February 7, 2013 12:43 p.m.
In a March 2012 photo,  Billy Burke talks with the cast and crew of the musical 'Huck Finn' at Catawba College. Burke composed 15 songs for the first running of the play  in 1955 and came back to reminisce and give some background of the orginals to the current students. He died Wednesday at age 95. Photo by Jon C. Lakey, Salisbury Post.
In a March 2012 photo, Billy Burke talks with the cast and crew of the musical 'Huck Finn' at Catawba College. Burke composed 15 songs for the first running of the play in 1955 and came back to reminisce and give some background of the orginals to the current students. He died Wednesday at age 95. Photo by Jon C. Lakey, Salisbury Post.

SALISBURY — Salisbury’s most famous musician and one of its greatest ambassadors, Billy Burke, died Wednesday night at the Lutheran Home at Trinity Oaks.

He was 95. Generations of Salisburians knew him as the city’s Music Man or, in other circles, as “Mr. Bridge.”


Burke always seemed to be in a corner, playing bright, cheery tunes on the piano, whether he was at Rotary, First Methodist Church, the Holiday Inn, community fundraisers, weddings, reunions or other parties.

His musical talents were vast and well-recognized in his day. He composed the songs for “Huck Finn,” a musical comedy presented by Catawba College’s Blue Masque first in 1955, again in 1958 and once more last year.

In 1957, the N.C. Symphony performed an orchestrated medley of five of Burke’s songs, arranged by Thomas Cousins — one of the proudest moments of Burke’s long life.

The musical found playing time in various other regional productions and in summer stock theater in New York. The Salisbury Symphony performed Burke’s “Huck Finn” songs on several occasions, including the symphony’s 25th anniversary.

Beyond his love for music and the theater, Burke was a Life Master bridge player, who up until last year had written a bridge column for the Salisbury Post since 1969.

Burke’s work experience included long stints as personnel and human resources manager for N.C. Finishing Co. and Zimmerman’s Department Store.

“He loved people, and he enjoyed friends as much as anybody I ever met,” longtime friend Leon Zimmerman said today. “Everything he was involved with was important to him and he gave 100 percent. He never held back on anything.”

Read more on Billy Burke in Friday’s edition of the Post.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.

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