Karla Burns is an operatic mezzo-soprano and actress who has performed nationally and internationally in opera houses, theatres, and television. Her outstanding performances have led to features in national and international publications including, Time, People, and Newsweek magazines, and The London Times. Among her many awards she is notably the first black person, African-American or otherwise, to receive Britain’s most prestigious theatrical award, the Lawrence Olivier, for her portrayal of Queenie in Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II’s Show Boat.
Karla was born and raised in Wichita, Kansas. She credits her parents Ira Willie Lee Burns and Catherine Scott Burns for inspiring her musical gifts. Her father was a jazz and gospel pianist and her mother sang spirituals and old hymns at home and in church. Burns attended Wichita State University where she earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Music Education and a Bachelor of Arts in Theater Performance. After graduating college she appeared throughout the world in musicals, classical theatre productions, operas, and revues.
Karla has appeared at some of the most distinguished venues in the world, including the Paris Opera, the Teatro Real in Madrid, Spain, and Egypt’s Cairo Opera House. In New York she debuted at The Metropolitan Opera in Porgy and Bess and performed at Carnegie Hall in Trio, a jazz opera. Other New York venues include Live at Lincoln Center and Shakespeare in the Park where she appeared in productions of Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors and Measure for Measure. The 1982-83 Broadway revival of Show Boat earned her a Drama Desk Award and a Tony nomination. London’s Opera North/Royal Shakespeare Company production of Show Boat marked her West End and United Kingdom debut for which she won the 1991 Olivier Award for Best Supporting Performance in a Musical. Karla also tours a one-woman show based on the biography of Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel titled Hi-Hat Hattie.
Karla is not without honors in her home town. She received the Kansas African American Museum Trailblazer Award in 2000 and was given the Wichita Arts Council Award for Performance and Education in 2012. In addition, she received a proclamation from Mayor Carl Brewer for her work with the Wichita community and was named one of the top Forty faces that changed Wichita State University in the Millennium. She currently resides in Wichita, performs nationally and internationally, and has a full roster of private students as she shares her talents and experiences with the next generation.