Burke journeys from silence to singing stardom

Roberta Burke wowed audiences with her strong voice. (credit: Kristen Severson | Photo Editor) Roberta Burke wowed audiences with her strong voice. (credit: Kristen Severson | Photo Editor)

Receiving a $5000 scholarship for winning an annual singing showdown is amazing, but winning back your confidence in the process is the real icing on the cake.

For Roberta Burke, a senior drama major, Campus Superstar proved to be a major turning point in both her personal and professional life. Singing since she can remember — “I don’t know what it is to not know how to sing,” she commented — Burke was diagnosed with vocal cord nodules, masses of tissue that develop on the vocal cords and obstruct speech, while in her freshman year at Carnegie Mellon. Since then, she was under strict restrictions about how often to use her voice. “I wasn’t allowed to speak for the first six months,” Burke said, “and I had a speaking regimen, like what hours in the day I could speak.”

What made the situation even more dire is that Burke refused routine medical treatment, as well as the option of surgically removing the nodules, and opted for herbal treatment instead.
“My family and I believe in herbal medicine ... and that the body can heal itself,” she said. Fortunately, Burke’s vocal cords healed and she regained her vocal abilities.

But the illness did take its toll, if not in a physical, the in a psychological way. Not being able to use her voice for two years ruined Burke’s self confidence. “When I started singing again, it wasn’t the same sound that I had originally ... I didn’t have good control over my voice ... I didn’t feel like this voice was mine,” she said.

But Campus Superstar changed all of that in one night. After continuous training for one and a half years, Burke finally felt she was ready for a public performance. “This is really my first emergence back out [saying] ‘Here I am... I’m a singer... this is Roberta Burke,’” she commented.

Burke could not have picked a more opportune time to make her debut once again, as not only did she walk away with first place from Campus Superstar, she also received overwhelmingly positive comments from the judges that gave her confidence a much-needed boost.

“I think the response from judges like Etta Cox ... her saying she would buy my album or having Richard Rauh be speechless ... it really reminded me that God has given me a gift,” she said. On the night of the final competition, which took place on April 5 at Carnegie Music Hall, Burke sang a rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing,” a song that is meaningful to her because Burke looks upon Houston as her musical mentor.

Carnegie Mellon truly did itself proud as it walked away with all three prizes at this year’s Campus Superstar. With Burke bagging first place, Lilli Passero, a first-year drama major followed closely as first runner-up, and Amanda Jane Cooper, a junior drama major, as second runner-up. Passero and Cooper won $1000 each. Cooper felt that the main thing she learned from the competition was to “trust yourself and have fun.” She decided to enter the competition because she is friends with Nick Cosgrove, a junior drama major, who won the competition two years ago, and his experience spurred her to perform. Burke concurs with Cooper’s sentiments about this opportunity being a fun-filled experience. When asked what she planned to do with the $5000 she won, Burke laughed and said, “It’s going to be used to pay off my balance at Carnegie Mellon University.”