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DENVER (KDVR) — Charles “Charlie” Burrell made history when he joined the Denver Symphony Orchestra as a bassist in 1949, becoming the first African American to become a member of a major American symphony.

The Colorado Symphony is unveiling a portrait of Burrell, who is 101 years old, at the Boettcher Concert Hall on Saturday at 7 p.m., before the evening performance.

“Charles Burrell is a living legend who’s been a hero, mentor, and a shining example to so many in Denver and across the country for close to a century,” said Anthony Pierce, chief artistic officer for the Colorado Symphony. “Charlie’s contributions to the music world, our orchestra, and this community have helped shape the world we live in today and we’re proud to honor his legacy with this portrait.” 

Burrell is also a renowned jazz bassist, performing with music legends Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Charlie Parker. He also helped his niece, five-time Grammy Award winner Dianne Reeves, launch her career. 

The Colorado Symphony provided a list of some of Burrell’s accomplishments:

  • 2008: Received a Denver Mayor’s award for excellence in Arts and Culture 
  • 2010: Congresswoman Diana DeGette led a tribute to him on the floor of the United States House of Representatives in honor of his 90th birthday, referring to him as a “titan of the classical and jazz bass” 
  • 2011: Received the Martin Luther King Jr. humanitarian award 
  • 2017: Inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame 
  • 2019: The Alphonse Robinson African American Music Association named the “Charles Burrell Award” after him 
  • 2019: Congressional Commendation by Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of House for his Excellence in Humanities and the Arts 
  • 2021: On November 16, the Aurora Public Schools Board of Education named its new arts magnet program in his honor. The Charles Burrell Visual and Performing Arts Campus will incorporate creative thinking into core K-12 curriculum and expand opportunities for arts education. 

The portrait unveiling is open to anyone with valid tickets for the Saturday performance. Contact the Colorado Symphony Box Office at 303 – 623 – 7876, or go online for tickets or information. Box Office hours are Mon.- Frid., 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., and Sat., 12 p.m. – 6 p.m.