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In Appreciation: Vinie Burrows

Actor Vinie Burrows, dubbed by critic Clive Barnes as “the queen of Black theater,” died on Christmas Day at the age of 99.

Born November 15, 1924, Burrows began her career as a child radio performer, graduating from New York University with a major in government. She made her Broadway debut in 1950 alongside Helen Hayes in The Wisteria Trees. Her Broadway credits included The Green PasturesMrs. Patterson, the 1955 revival of The Skin of Our TeethThe Ponder Heart, and Mandingo. Off-Broadway, she starred for 18 months in Jean Genet’s The Blacks, and appeared opposite Earle Hyman in The Words of Shakespeare.

Dissatisfied by the roles she was being hired for and recognizing that her talent was being underutilized because of the color of her skin, Burrows turned to solo performance, launching her career as a monologist in 1963 at Antioch College. Her most famous solo work, Walk Together Children, originated as part of a church service at St. Clement’s in New York City, becoming a full off-Broadway production in November 1968. Walk Together Children broke records and would tour the country, leading the way for other solo shows including Dark Fire and Sister Sister.

Burrows appeared on stage well into her 80s and 90s, appearing in Lear deBessonet’s productions of Good Person of Szechwan and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (at the Delacorte for Shakespeaere in the Park), Rachel Chavkin’s New York Theatre Workshop revival of Light Shining in BuckinghamshireThe Homecoming Queen at the Vineyard, Mies Julie at Classic Stage Company, and the Mint’s Chekhov/Tolstoy: Love Stories, which marked her final stage appearance, in 2020 at the age of 95. She was working with the TEAM on the stage work Reconstructing at the time of her death.

Burrows was granted an honorary Ph.D. from the New School, as well as a Lifetime Achievement Obie Award in 2020. She worked as an NGO at the United Nations and was part of the Grannies Peace Brigade.

All told, in her seven-decade career, Burrows gave over 6,000 performances; beyond Broadway and off-Broadway, she performed for women’s groups, colleges, and human rights organizations across four continents. She is survived by her two children, six grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild.