Born in Brantford, Ontario, Karen Burke entered McMaster University’s Honours music programme in 1979, where she developed an interest in choral conducting. During her time there, Burke received the Louise E. Bettger Scholarship recognizing excellence in choral work, the Humanities Medal for Special Achievement, and the Hamilton Alumnae Branch Award for outstanding graduating female student upon completion of her Honours Bachelor of Music Degree in 1983. Burke also received the A.R.C.T. Diploma in Piano Teaching from the Royal Conservatory of Music in 1985.
Karen and her husband, Oswald own Burke Music Inc. a Gospel music production and publishing company which also offers booking services, consulting, choral workshops and private music and theory lessons.
In 1988, Burke co-founded the Toronto Mass Choir; a gospel choir comprised of a diversified group of singers and musicians, and continues to serve as its principal director. She runs the choir with her husband, Oswald Burke, who is Executive Producer and along with her devoted choral staff, Burke develops the choir’s touring schedules and choral arrangements. Since its inception, she has also written many original songs for the choir’s recordings.
Following a twelve-year stint as a high school music teacher at Toronto District Christian High School, Burke became a Professor in the music department at York University in 2005 developing the first post-secondary gospel music curricular courses in Canada and establishing the 100-voice York University Gospel Choir. In 2006, Burke established G.I.V.E. (Gospel Inter-Varsity Explosion), which is an annual gospel music festival to educate, encourage and showcase gospel choirs at post-secondary institutions.
Her music career also includes work as a busy guest speaker and conductor, classical piano teacher, adjudicator and clinician offering gospel music workshops. In 2013, Burke established the City Youth Gospel Project, which is a gospel music festival exclusively designed exclusively to teach and share gospel music to high school choirs located in the Greater Toronto Area.
Burke has offered workshops for many schools and organizations including the University of Western Ontario, the Ontario Music Educators Association (OMEA), the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir, the Metropolitan Separate School Board and the Ontario Mennonite Music Camp. Burke has also been asked to conduct gospel music workshops at home and abroad in Poland and Romania and in 2009 was nominated for the Leslie Bell Conducting Prize.