The start of Courtney Burton’s singing career sounds like the opening scene of a movie. “I was literally singing in the shower, freshman year of college, and somebody goes, ‘Who is that?’” Burton says. With a naturally lower voice, she never considered herself much of a singer, but that ditty in the shower secured her an invitation to audition to sing at a church at St. Mary’s College (now St. Mary’s University of Minnesota) in Winona.
Burton later joined a campus choir, auditioned for on-campus musical reviews and took voice lessons. “Then I took a 15-year hiatus while I was getting my career launched in corporate,” she says. Even during this break, Burton occasionally sang at weddings and other small events. When a coworker learned about her musical moonlighting, he/she mentioned that Beasley’s Big Band out of Twin Cities was looking for a new vocalist, and asked Burton if she’d audition. “It was horrible,” Burton says, “but Chuck Beasley, the founder, heard something in my voice.” Burton got the spot and has been singing with the 19-piece band for over 20 years.
“Another part of my story is I have officially moved on from my corporate career, and I am now taking on my dream of being a full-time musician,” Burton says. To this end, Burton, a former retail and sales executive, started her own five-piece band, Court’s in Session, which has played everything from weddings to galas and fundraisers.
At 62, it’s not typical to embark on a new career. “At this point in my life, I still have my voice,” Burton says, “and there’s a part of me that’s saying, ‘If I don’t try now, I’ll never know.’ So, I’m taking that risk and saying, ‘Let me find out what’s possible ... have a lot of fun along the way, meet a ton of cool people and have experiences I wouldn’t have otherwise.’”
Burton has also been exploring the versatility of her smaller band. “On the business side, I’m a service provider, which means I need to listen to my potential customers’ needs, and we adapt as needed,” she says. This means considering the venue size, the length of the event and the impression the host wants to make, resulting in enlisting a sixth player or going down to a three-piece. “I want to make sure what we bring to your party is exactly what’s needed to elevate the ambiance and not about taking over the event,” she says.
Burton is taking the opportunity to hone her craft. “The five-piece [band] gives me the opportunity to stretch out a little more as a musician,” she says. “When you’re in a Big Band, the songs are written how the songs are written, and I don’t have as much leeway to express myself creatively. With my five-piece, we can do that.”