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Entertainment Pioneer and Activist Arthur Leon Burnette Passes Away at 72

The entertainment and social justice communities are still mourning the passing of Arthur Leon Burnette, affectionately known by many as “Mr. B,” who died on Christmas Day 2023 at the age of 72. The beloved visionary, event producer and impresario helped ignite the careers of renowned figures such as Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, The Brothers Johnson, L.A. Reid, Eric “ET” Thomas and others. Family, friends and industry leaders gathered last Sunday to honor his life and legacy at Oakwood University Church in Huntsville, Alabama.

Born in South Central Los Angeles in 1951, Burnette led an extraordinary life of innovation and a commitment to service. While much of his work was behind the scenes, his impact on the ascension of some of black entertainment’s most renowned and celebrated talents was undeniable. After studying at Long Beach State University and Oakwood College (now Oakwood University) in Huntsville, his career in the music business took off in 1975 when he toured with the funk band Mandrill. A master at building relationships and recognizing talent, throughout the 1970s and 1980s he would work with a legendary lineup of artists, including Rick James, Kenny Rogers, Midnight Star, The Deele, Heatwave, The Commodores, and many more. Burnette was a protégé of Quincy Jones, and was responsible for taking the most decorated vocal group in history, Take 6, to meet Jones at his home, establishing a relationship that birthed the multi-Grammy Award-winning album “Back on the Block.”

In 1984, he served as the production manager for the Summer Olympics at L.A Memorial Coliseum, which featured Stevie Wonder, Etta James and a tribute to George Gershwin. He would later orchestrate the first ever live video streaming for the 28th annual Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference in 1998, and executive produce the National Baptist Convention. As his production prowess grew, he returned to Oakwood for 15 years to executive produce the church’s national conventions as well as concerts featuring headlining gospel artists like Fred Hammond, Donnie McClurkin and Kirk Franklin. During that time, he took Oakwood University students, as well as his three sons, Monualdai, Miles and Marques under his wing to expose them to the world of business. He had a passion for youth and sharing valuable life lessons.

“My father was a man of purpose, a visionary, and a family man. He showed us that with God all things are possible, and he instilled in us the importance of leaving a legacy for future generations,” said Monualdai Burnette, the eldest son.

“To others, he was a man that made things happen. He had a keen ability to see talent in people before they saw it in themselves. He wanted only the best for those around him, he wanted them to win and he wasn’t concerned about the credit and recognition. He just wanted to win!”

Speaking of legacy, Burnette’s influence expanded far beyond entertainment. A civil rights champion with a passion for history, exploration and storytelling, “Mr. B.” orchestrated other impactful programs and initiatives that will now continue under the guidance and leadership of his sons, including Civil Rights Trail Tours, a travel company that provides education and cultural immersion tours of the south to expose people to the rich aspects of black history and music. Also, as a tour director, Burnette founded The Pathways Project, a coalition of organizations that is focused on exposing inequalities and eliminating barriers to entry into the travel and tourism industry for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and minority women.

Burnette left such an indelible mark on so many people from all walks of life that his supporters are adamant about ensuring his name lives on. He is survived by his 95-year-old mother Ruth Mildred Burnette, his wife Marcia Adams-Burnette, his three sons Monualdai, Miles and Marques, and his grandchildren Xavier Marques Burnette, Monualdai Ethan Burnette, and Xaria Mariea Burnette.

Sunday’s funeral service featured remarks from Burnette’s family, his godson Eric “ET” Thomas (renowned motivational speaker), and others, including a powerful video tribute from the TreadRight Foundation, performances by Joey Kibble (of Take 6), reflections from Reggie Calloway (of R&B Groups Calloway and Midnight Star), Maureen Wright-Evans and Omar Evans, co-founders of Wanderlust Adventures Group of Jamaica, and other comments of remembrance.  Two additional services will take place in Los Angeles and in Jamaica at dates to be determined.

For more information on Arthur Leon Burnette and his most recent work, visit tourismpathways.com and civilrightstrailtours.com.

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