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Denver jazz, symphony icon Charles Burrell celebrates 102nd birthday

Charles Burrell birthday party
Posted at 10:30 PM, Oct 04, 2022

AURORA, Colo. — Turning 102 years old, in and of itself, calls for a pretty special party. Charles Burrell certainly got that as he rolled up to a building with his name on it in Aurora Tuesday.

The Charles Burrell Visual & Performing Arts Campus stands as a testament to his legacy.

“I’m gonna cry,” Burrell said softly, as a crowd of students — many wearing shirts adorning his name — began to sing him "Happy Birthday."

Burrell is often called the Jackie Robinson of classical music, both for his talent and for the barriers he broke. He was the first Black person to play with the Denver Symphony Orchestra (now the Colorado Symphony) in 1949. The opportunity came after many others were closed to him, simply because of the color of his skin.

“Even though you have many barriers in your life, you can overcome those, and he’s proof of that,” former music teacher Tom Humphrey told the room of Burrell Arts staff and students.

Denver jazz, symphony icon Charles Burrell celebrates 102nd birthday

In the video above, watch the heartwarming moments as generations of Colorado artists and performers celebrate the man who inspires them, and opened the doors for them to pursue their dreams.