Birmingham’s Walker Burroughs shines on American Idol; April 28 vote is next hurdle in competition

Birmingham’s Walker Burroughs shines on American Idol; April 28 vote is next hurdle in competition

Walker Burroughs, the unassuming, Harry Potter-bespectacled entertainer in season 17 of ABC’s American Idol is catapulting to stardom as he advanced to the final eight on the Easter Sunday evening broadcast.

The 20-year-old’s smooth, seemingly effortless performances and oh-so-comfortable-in-his-own-skin personality have made fans even of Idol judges. Where did Walker get his mojo? His grandparents — Gogo, Baba, Bop and Nana — may have set the stage.

“Walker has a very disciplined work ethic,” said David Burroughs, Walker’s dad. “I think Walker may have ‘caught’ that from my wife Colleen’s father, Jimmy Walker (now deceased). He was a Southern Baptist pastor and church planter, and for 21 years, he and his wife Charlotte were missionaries to people in Malawi, Zimbabwe and Bophuthatswana.”

Gogo and Baba

To their namesake, Walker, Charlotte and Jimmy Walker are Gogo and Baba, “Grandmamma” and “Grandfather” in Chichewa, a dialect spoken in Malawi. During the early 1960s, a time when racial strife was bubbling high in the Deep South, Jimmy and Charlotte, from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, boarded the Queen Mary and sailed overseas to share their lives with the people of Eastern and Southern Africa.

The couple was forced to return to the United States for a few years when Jimmy contracted melanoma. Charlotte, a strong woman who never met a stranger, wondered what to do with a degree in home economics while Jimmy was undergoing treatment. She landed on nursing school. Nearing age 40, she received her degree, was certified as a registered nurse, and as soon as Jimmy got the all clear, they returned to the mission field where they built a medical clinic. Charlotte ran the operation as head nurse.

The couple’s four daughters, Walker’s mom being the youngest, often sang as a warm-up quartet to their preacher father. Charlotte’s mother had been a classically trained pianist and today Charlotte has two grand pianos stationed together in her Tuscaloosa home where the family gathers to play music and sing.

“Among many other things, Gogo and Baba taught me what it looks like to love people from all over the world,” said Walker.

Nana and Bop

Bob and Esther Burroughs, a.k.a., Bop and Nana, may get credit for gifting Walker the DNA of music and leadership.

Bob encouraged Walker sitting side by side with him at the piano, helping him work through difficult spots and offering advice in singing. “Walker is growing strong in confidence and character,” said Bob. “Someone said of Walker, ‘He doesn’t just sing a song — he caresses and molds it to his own style.’ And that’s so true.”

A star in his own right, Bob Burroughs has been a prolific composer and arranger of church music for more than a half-century. He served as minister of music in Southern Baptist churches in Oklahoma, Texas and Georgia while writing and arranging music for vocal and handbell choirs. He was composer-in-residence and taught music theory classes at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama; Mercer University in Atlanta, Georgia; and Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida. He retired from the Florida Baptist Convention, where he served as state music director.

Bob has more than 2,000 published musical works on his extensive resumé, including “Jesus, My Lord My God My All,” “Beholding All Your Glory,” and “Lord Make Our Homes,” one of a handful of songs that he and Esther, lyricist, collaborated on over the course of their 60-year marriage.

Esther is a gifted speaker, author of seven books, and founder of Esther Burroughs Ministries, Treasures of the Heart, after spending nearly two decades as associate director of church growth and associational evangelism with the Southern Baptist Convention North American Mission Board. Esther was also the first female campus minister at Samford University, a frequent speaker and contributor for LifeWay Women’s Leadership Forum and Aspiring Women, and has been called “the Beth Moore of her generation.”

Esther gets on her knees to pray for Walker each day, and since he’s been on American Idol, she sends him encouraging messages.

“I send him a Scripture every day — something to do with singing, playing an instrument, or praising God.”

Walker, his twin sister Milligan, and their older cousins built confidence and character at “Nana Camp,” the early training ground of responsibility, manners and learning to care for the needs of others. Esther and Bob hosted the week-long summer camp over a 13-year span for their five grandchildren.

She solicited cooperation and good behavior from the children as they earned multiple prizes each day by following camp rules. Teddy bear tea parties inspired manners; knitting and making ceramic treasures fostered confidence and creativity; corresponding with missionaries, marking their locations on a world map and praying for them taught spiritual concern and service to others. Field trips to the local women and children’s shelter to play games, and giving gifts to single women in the community helped the children to see and meet needs that were all around them. Treasure hunts, swimming in the bed of Bop’s truck and water balloon fights created lasting memories. Step-by-step Scripture memorization set their hearts on eternity.

“We’re so proud of Walker and all our grandchildren,” said Esther. “His parents invested their lives in him and other young people through Passport, a summer camp ministry they began in 1993. Walker performed publicly for the first time at Passport. He came into the world singing and he’s never stopped.”

Inspired by his high school band director, Walker is carving out his own unique musical career path. Growing up outside Birmingham in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, where the family’s home church is Vestavia Hills Baptist Church, Walker now lives in Nashville, majoring in music education at Belmont University with aspirations of becoming a band or choral director.

He performs in The Beltones, Belmont’s a capella group, and released his first single last summer, “The Moon Song,” inspired by his high school sweetheart, India Ellison. The single received more than 400,000 streams on Spotify after just seven months —before American Idol began on March 3 this year.

Those who have had the pleasure of watching Walker climb the ranks through American Idol’s pressure-packed performances understand why the judges not only praise his talent as a performer but also seem to genuinely like him as a person.

“My grandparents’ lives have had such an impact on me,” said Walker. “They taught me very practically about loving others and worshiping as a family — all the times we spent singing together and celebrating together are etched in my heart. I’m richer for all they poured into my life.”

Vote during the show Sunday, April 28

Sunday, April 28, 2019, Walker Burroughs will be singing a tune from Queen and vie for one of the top 6 spots. Watch American Idol on Sunday April 28, simulcast on ABC at 8 p.m. Eastern time/5 p.m. Pacific time.

Voting will begin at the start of the simulcast and close during the last commercial break. Vote on the American Idol website, by downloading the American Idol app, or by texting the number 14 to 21523.

Each viewer is allowed up to 30 votes, and it’s important to vote during the show. The remaining six contestants will be announced at the end of Sunday’s broadcast.