A household in harmony

Having a professional musician as a father, it is no surprise that Phoebe Burt ‘21 was humming before she could talk. Phoebe and Kevin Burt discuss how music has helped the two grow more in tune with one another.

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A household in harmony

Phoebe Burt ‘21 and her father Kevin Burt sing and play “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers at Wildwood Saloon in North Liberty earlier this year.

Phoebe Burt ‘21 and her father Kevin Burt sing and play “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers at Wildwood Saloon in North Liberty earlier this year.

Courtesy of Phoebe Burt

Phoebe Burt ‘21 and her father Kevin Burt sing and play “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers at Wildwood Saloon in North Liberty earlier this year.

Courtesy of Phoebe Burt

Courtesy of Phoebe Burt

Phoebe Burt ‘21 and her father Kevin Burt sing and play “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers at Wildwood Saloon in North Liberty earlier this year.

By Jessica Moonjely, West High School

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Having a professional musician as a father, it is no surprise that Phoebe Burt ‘21 was humming before she could talk. Phoebe and Kevin Burt discuss how music has helped the two grow more in tune with one another.

Standing onstage in front of a growing crowd of people, Kevin “B. F.” Burt is in his element. His eyes are closed, and he’s feeling every lyric of the song he’s singing. As his performance nears its end, he does something that very few musicians would ever dream of: he calls his three-year-old daughter, Phoebe Burt ’21, up to the stage to sing one last song with him. The unfazed child toddles onto the stage, and the audience erupts into cheers as the two close the show with their rendition of “You Are My Sunshine.”

Though music eventually found Kevin, he wasn’t always a professional musician. He played football throughout high school and college and sought to play professionally with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in Canada but was cut from the team before the season started. Afterwards, he returned to his home of Iowa City and instead of going back to school, he decided to work five jobs. One day, one of his bosses heard him singing while on the job and encouraged him to join her son’s new blues band. Since then, Kevin hasn’t looked back.

For the past 20 years, Kevin has been a full-time professional blues musician. Throughout his career, he traveled all over the United States and to numerous countries. He has met artists like Bill Withers and opened for Destiny’s Child. One of his most memorable moments is receiving a standing ovation from world-renowned blues singer B.B. King during a performance in Cedar Rapids.

Over the course of his career, Kevin transitioned from being a part of the band, The Blues Instigators, to becoming a solo artist. The day before his first solo show, he bought his first harmonica and guitar and played them in his performance without having taken a single lesson or being able to read music.

“Every time I watch somebody else play, I watch it as if it’s a lesson,” Kevin said, “I watch to learn. I’ve said that to my daughters. I have a wonderful imagination. For me, when I see somebody else doing something, I really do watch the mechanical part of it.”

Every time I watch somebody else play, I watch it as if it’s a lesson. I watch to learn. I’ve said that to my daughters. I have a wonderful imagination. For me, when I see somebody else doing something, I really do watch the mechanical part of it.”

— Kevin B.F. Burt

Music isn’t the only thing Kevin has learned from observing. He’s been able to translate this skill into fatherhood; lacking a close relationship with his own father, Kevin has worked to establish a strong bond with his daughters.

“Not everybody shows you things that you want to do, but if you watch long enough you can learn exactly what not to do. My father taught me how to have this relationship by not doing the things that [Phoebe and I] do, so I respect him for that, and I appreciate that,” Kevin said. “He was just doing the best he could with what he had, so there’s no reason to hold animosity about it.”

For the past 16 years of her life, Phoebe and her dad have shared a close connection. One of their favorite things to do together is laugh. Sometimes all it takes is a funny look or a mispronounced word, and the two will start laughing to the point of tears.

“If you look back at choir concert videos, you’ll see a couple times where I randomly start laughing,” Phoebe said. “It’s probably because I found him in the crowd somewhere, and he started doing something stupid.”

Ever since Phoebe can remember, music has been a part of her life. According to Kevin, before Phoebe could even talk, she was always humming. As Phoebe developed the ability to speak, humming quickly transformed into singing. Once she started, she never stopped. It was at her second grade talent show when she sang the national anthem that her passion for music solidified.

Kevin has always been an ardent supporter of Phoebe’s music and calls memories like these “proud daddy moments.” His daughter’s aptitude for music is something he takes pride in sharing with the rest of world. Sometimes at his performances he’ll take out his phone, put it up to the mic and play recordings of Phoebe singing for the audience.

“Every parent is proud of their kids and every parent tells a story, but not every parent can prove it,” Kevin said. “When I tell you my baby can sing, I want you to hear it.”

Apart from singing the national anthem, another defining moment in Phoebe’s singing career was when she got a solo in Showtime, West’s preparatory show choir, her freshman year. This was one of the first solos Phoebe had received in an ensemble. Kevin believes that because Phoebe has a low range, unique tone and “sounded like an adult woman, not a Disney Princess,” this sometimes prevented people from recognizing her talents earlier. However, he tells her to not be discouraged by other people’s opinions.

“I call it the cup of tea theory. You’re never going to be everybody’s cup of tea, but it doesn’t stop you from being a cup of tea,” Kevin said.  “Somebody’s going to take that sip and be like ‘Oh wow, this is it.’”

Music is a language that I’ve been learning for a very, very long time. I’m not fluent in it yet, but I can speak it well enough to the point where it reaches out to different people and other people understand it.”

— Phoebe Burt '21

Phoebe has already started to amass a growing fan base by singing with Kevin at his performances in Iowa. Since the age of three, Phoebe has traveled to many festivals with Kevin. Each time they sing together, Kevin is amazed by his daughter and her stage presence.

“I’m impressed that she is able to keep her eyes open and connect in that sense. I can’t do that. I can’t do a full show and look out and see everything is looking back at me. I’m still of the mindset that I have to make everything disappear and perform,” Kevin said. “She embraces it, and that’s also another impressive and powerful thing that she does.”

“Music is a language that I’ve been learning for a very, very long time,” Phoebe said. “I’m not fluent in it yet, but I can speak it well enough to the point where it reaches out to different people and other people understand it.”

Having the opportunity to sing with Kevin at his performances has taught Phoebe many lessons on how to perform.

“He has influenced the way that I sing, especially a lot of my voice, my style of singing, the emotion that I go for, the projection of my voice and just being able to perform,” Phoebe said.

Kevin and Phoebe’s signature song to sing together is Kevin’s original song “Your Smile.” Kevin wrote the song when Phoebe was just 18 months old. The song is about knowing the inevitability of his kids growing up and trying to prepare himself ahead of time. Over the years, Kevin and Phoebe sang it countless times and perfected their performance. Longtime family friend of the Burts, McKenna Proud ’21, fondly remembers Kevin and Phoebe’s heartfelt performance of “Your Smile” during the Northwest Junior High Eighth Grade Party.

Honestly for me, I don’t want to mess up because I don’t want to let her down. Bottom line is that the people at the show already know me and they’ve heard stories about her. It’s an opportunity for me to let my baby’s light shine.”

— Kevin B.F. Burt

“It was kind of bittersweet because that was when we were going to high school,” Proud said. “It was like his child was growing up and becoming her own woman now.”

While music is one of Kevin’s greatest passions, he always considers himself a father first.

“Honestly for me, I don’t want to mess up because I don’t want to let her down,” Kevin said. “Bottom line is that the people at the show already know me and they’ve heard stories about her. It’s an opportunity for me to let my baby’s light shine.”

This story was originally published on West Side Story on April 19, 2019.