Established in 1920 when members of the Burbank Woman’s Club joined their husbands to form the Burbank Choral Club, the chorale has a colorful history, one that member Mike O’Donoghue knows better than anyone. For seven months, he has been researching the transformations of the chorale in what he calls a “labor of love.” His findings will be shown at this year’s concert.
“I began asking older members of the choir and working with the Burbank Historical Society to piece together this story,” he said, adding that this work should’ve been done 40 years ago to preserve valuable firsthand knowledge.
His foray into the chorale’s history has resulted in many key finds, including that black composer and choral conductor Jester Harrison infused soul into an almost all-white choir for an audience of 5,000 at the Starlight Bowl in 1963.
Charles Munro, the original conductor who held the position for more than 25 years, met his wife Myrtle, a “30-something divorcee” from Kansas, when she became the choir’s accompanist in the 1930s.
One of the most poignant stories involves former director Cliff Dunderland, who discovered he had AIDS in 1992, four years after taking over the position. Dunderland’s accompanist, Frank Basile accidentally inherited the role of conductor and went on to expand the choir’s repertoire to include Dixieland, Broadway show tunes and more.
Longtime members, like Burbank resident Karen Gilbert, who started with the group 40 years ago, keep the chorale going.
Her reason for joining is simple — she loves to sing.
“I’ve been here for so long that it’s hard to leave,” she said. “It’s fantastic. Everybody is so nice, and I’ve met so many different directors.”