Anthony Burger, 44, stricken, dies during performance
Pianist was part of the Gaither Homecoming cruise when he suffers fatal heart attack
Christian Examiner staff report


FRANKLIN, Tenn. — Memorial services were held March 1 for renown pianist Anthony Burger who died Feb. 22, while performing during a Gaither Homecoming concert aboard a Caribbean cruise liner. He was 44.

According to published reports, Burger was performing with the Gaither Vocal Band aboard the ms Zuiderdam, when he collapsed at the piano. Attempts to revive him backstage failed. The ship, on an Inspiration Cruise, left port from Miami with more than 1,500 passengers. An autopsy revealed his heart had burst. He had no known heart trouble prior to the attack that killed him.

Early reports originally indicated that Burger was playing “We Shall Behold Him” when he was stricken. But Ben Speer, who was on the cruise, said in a note posted on Mark Lowry’s Web site, that Burger had finished that song when, several numbers later, someone in the audience noticed Burger was doubled over.

Burger, an accomplished pianist whose career included solo work, first began in the industry at age 16 as a member of The Kingsmen quartet. He joined the Gaither band a decade ago, performing more than 250 times a year. He also performed at the White House and for numerous Billy Graham crusades. Burger’s audiences included President George W. Bush, and his predecessors, Carter and Regan.

The Franklin, Tenn. resident was inducted to the Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 2000.

By age 17 he was nominated as one of the Top Five pianists in Gospel music. For a decade, he was awarded the top fan-initiated instrumentalist award by The Singing News Magazine, until the award was renamed for him. Earlier this year, Burger secured an endorsement deal with Steinway Pianos.

His resumé was especially impressive given the fact doctors had told his parents he would likely never have use of his hands after a severe burn as a toddler. At 19 months, the young Anthony fell onto a floor furnace severely burning his legs, hands and face. But, at age 3, he sat down at the family piano and replicated a song he had heard earlier that day during Sunday services. Two years later, before most children enter kindergarten, Burger began studying music at the University of Tennessee’s Cadek Conservatory of Music, the youngest ever admitted.


Musicians mourn
Tributes have emerged worldwide for a man known as a classic pianist with exceptional talent. He is widely considered among the greatest in the business.

“Anthony was a good man,” entertainer Dottie Rambo wrote on an online blog tribute. “I loved being around him. He made the piano sing to your heart. When my manager Larry Ferguson came to me and told me he passed away after playing my song ‘We Shall Behold Him’ I began to cry. Through my tears I realized Anthony now knows the true meaning of that song and he is beholding him face to face.”

Paul Rhoden, of the Suwannee River Boys, recalled meeting Burger shortly after the-then teen-ager joined the Kingsmen Quartet.

“He was very young and very interesting to watch as he rolled back on that piano bench and just did his thing with the keys in his hand,” Rhoden posted on the blog. “He played those keys like he owned them yet knew without a doubt that it was a gift from God and did not take it for granted.

“Anthony now holds another set of keys that sparkle white as snow along with that red musical sparkling sequined vest he use to wear that had music notes all over it.”

Childhood friend, Phil Cross, of the Poet Voices, called Burger a hero. The two grew up in the same neighborhood.

“We have always been close,” Cross said. “Today, I feel like I've lost my brother. This is such a sad day for every singer, musician, and friend of Gospel music. And it seems to me that pianos of Earth must now cry as they say goodbye to a master.”

Perhaps the most poignant testimony came from an online obituary posted on Chattanoogan.com.

“Anthony began his music career with "The Old Rugged Cross" and ended it with "We Shall Behold Him," the online publication read. “This a testament to his life’s work of bringing people to Christ so that they can join him in the Kingdom of Heaven. We will miss him, but we know that Anthony is now accompanying angels.”

Berger is survived by his wife LuAnn, two sons, AJ and Austin; a daughter, Lori; his mother and father, Richard and Jean Burger; and two brothers, Randy and Clinton Burger.

Contributions may be made to the Gospel Music Trust Fund/Anthony Burger, P.O. Box 144, Goodlettsville, TN 37070 or visit gospelmusictrustfund.org.



Published, March 2006


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