WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — The family and friends of local Broadway star Karla Burns are raising money to get a bench gravestone for her burial site.
Burns was laid to rest on Friday, June 4, 2021, and has been without a headstone or long-term marker since. According to Rose Palmer, a student of Burns, medical bills and the cost of the burial were all the family could afford.
She leaves behind her close sister, Donna Burns, and lifelong friends.
Karla was born and raised in Wichita. She attended Wichita West High School and graduated from Wichita State University.
She started her Broadway career by playing the role of the riverboat cook Queenie in “Show Boat.”
She was the recipient of a Laurence Olivier Award, Britain’s highest stage honor, in 1991 for best-supporting performance in a musical. The Society of London Theater, the sponsoring organization of the Olivier Awards, said Karla was likely the first Black performer to win that honor and recognition.
Karla was also nominated for a Tony for her performance in a one-woman play about the life of Hattie McDaniel.
Palmer says Karla was aware of the difference she made.
In an interview with KMUW in 2018, Karla said, “I’ve noticed that people do often look at your color, your size, and it makes a difference.”
A few of Karla’s other roles included Bloody Mary from the musical “South Pacific,” Maria, the matriarch of Catfish Row, from “Porgy and Bess,” and she even appeared in Marc Blitzstein’s 1949 opera “Regina.” Her legacy includes other roles she played.
Later in life, Karla gave singing lessons. One of her students was Palmer.
“I was at church and saw some of her students singing on stage. I was inspired. I looked at my mom and said, ‘that I wanna do that,’” said Palmer.
Palmer started taking private singing lessons with Karla shortly after, and the two became friends.
“I considered [her] family … She would consistently come by for family holiday dinners. She even sang to my great-grandmother before she passed. She’s given my family so many special memories. A place to sit, remember, and spend time with [Ms. Burns] seems fitting,” Palmer said.
Family and friends want Karla to have a gravestone bench that will represent the tremendous impact that she had on their lives and the lives of countless others.
“She deserves a marker that can serve as a place of rest and remembrance for those that she cared for and who cared for her,” said Donna. “Karla deserves a marker that shines as brightly as she did.”
To donate toward Karla’s bench gravestone, click here.