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Memorial service Saturday for Wichita native, Broadway great Karla Burns

Updated: Jun. 4, 2021 at 12:32 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Update: A memorial service will be held for Karla Burns Saturday, June 12 at 10:00 a.m. at First United Methodist Church, 330 N. Broadway, in Wichita. The wearing of masks is required.

Visitation will take place Friday evening, from 6-8 p.m., at St. Matthew Christian Methodist Episcopal Church at 841 N.Cleveland or from 9-10 a.m. at First United Methodist Church prior to the service.

Anyone unable to attend the service may watch from home by going to the following link: https://boxcast.tv/channel/f9yfyjzko2esfwfc5vkn the day of the service.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be given to the Karla Burns Memorial, c/o WSU Foundation, 1845 Fairmount, Campus Box 2, Wichita, KS 67260-0002.

Award-winning Broadway actress Karla Burns has died early Friday morning at the age of 66.

The 66-year-old had been battling long-term health issues. While she is gone, her friends say her memory will continue to live on.

The last place Burns performed on stage was in 2020 at Roxy’s Downtown. She was portraying the character Evilene from The Wiz. She even gave KWCH a behind-the-scenes preview.

“The memories of those performances, the fact that they are captured on video, the fact that you can watch them, and hear her voice, that amazing voice, is nothing short of spectacular and will keep her immortal,” said Rick Bumgardner, artistic director at Roxy’s Downtown.

On Friday, Bumgardner shared what his best friend of 46 years would want to say.

“Karla would want folks to believe in themselves, so much that no one could tell them no,” he said.

Burns is most well-known for her performance in the one-woman show, Hi-Hat Hattie, written by playwright Larry Parr about another African-American Wichitan, Hattie McDaniel. She shares being a notable first with McDaniel, who was the first Black person to receive an Academy Award. Burns is the first Black person, African-American or other, to win Great Britain’s most prestigious award for theatre, the Laurence Olivier Award.

“Hattie McDaniel was known for being the first black woman to be on the radio west of the Mississippi,” Bumgardner said.

Burns is also remembered for accepting an honorary doctorate from Wichita State University and giving the commencement speech back at her alma mater in 2016.

“And as she once said, ‘and I believe it all day long. I did my best. and God did the rest.’ Thank you,” said Burns at the time.

But it is her performances that will continue to live on, like a December 2013 rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” when the Wichita City Council proclaimed Karla Burns Week.

While those closest to her mourn her passing, her friends will never let her be forgotten.

“She’s kind of an amazing human being. We had a lot of incredible experiences together, she and I,” remembers Bumgardner.

Plans for a memorial service are in the works. Once we learn those details, we will share them on KWCH.com and the KWCH app.

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