New Bedford City Councilor Shane Burgo and the community make beautiful music together

NEW BEDFORD — City Councilor Shane Burgo was put on the spot when councilors bade an emotional farewell to longtime Assistant Clerk of Committees Donna M. Britto at a recent meeting.

After he made his remarks, Council President Linda Morad asked, "Councilor Burgo, you didn't have a song?"

He replied with a smile, "I didn't prepare one today."

Morad lightly asked him to "get thinking" during the remaining councilors' statements.

Fifteen minutes later, Burgo stood and delivered a goosebump-raising version of "This Little Light of Mine" that perfectly caught the moment.

"I just thought 'This Little Light of Mine' was a fitting tribute to Donna. In my remarks that night, I said she is a light. And I go back to our city motto, which is, Lucem Diffundo, which is, I diffuse light."

That's thinking — and singing — on your feet.

But then, it wasn't the first time Morad made a sudden request for song from Burgo.

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At the board's first meeting of the year, she sprang such a song request on him.

Burgo responded with "America the Beautiful," which, as the saying goes, brought down the house. Earlier that same day he had performed at Bristol County Sheriff Paul Heroux's inauguration.

Burgo performs at the city's annual Martin Luther King Day community event.
Burgo performs at the city's annual Martin Luther King Day community event.

Burgo's love of singing springs from his Catholic faith.

"To me, singing started out in the church. Singing is a form of prayer. It's a form of proclaiming the word."

As a child he would sit in a pew near the choir at Our Lady of the Assumption Church so he could join in the singing."Someone said to me, if you're going to sing all the time, why don't you go sing with the choir?"

He was too shy to join right away, he said.

It took the encouragement he received at Global Learning Charter School to take center stage.

"I was fortunate to have great teachers like Polly Zajac, who still teaches there now. I still have a very close relationship with her," Burgo said.

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His first live solo performance, "which was very scary," was delivered as Charlie Brown in "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown."

That broke the ice. Within a couple years he played a lead in the school's eighth grade production of "Guys and Dolls."

By the time he reached New Bedford High School, he was ready to pursue his love of singing, joining up with multiple choirs, including the award-winning SATB Show Choir. There he performed with now fellow City Councilor Ryan Pereira under the direction of Pauline DeBalsi, whom they recently presented with a certificate of achievement in recognition of her many years of servce to the Music Department.

Burgo was president of New Bedford High's chorale program in his senior year.

He also joined the school's Drama Club, and even landed a featured role as Augustus Gloop in "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" in his freshman year. Featured roles rarely went to freshmen.

His singing remained a hobby, though, he said until he got encouragement from his sister-in-law's dad, Kevin Robinson, to compete in karaoke contests around the state. That's after he won a Christmas party contest at Robinson's house.

He kept on winning, though he said it seemed a "surprise to me every time."

His friends would say, "You know you're going to win." But, he said, it was hard for him to share their confidence, and acknowledged he may be his toughest critic.

Since that time he has always been ready to volunteer his voice at community events, from the national anthem at the Cape Verdean Recognition Committee to union events celebrating Labor Day.

And, of course, he continues to sing at Our Lady of the Assumption Church for his parish.

He can still get nervous before a performance, too, he said.

"I can sing in front of a million people if I don't know who they are. But if I have to sing in front of just one person I happen to know, it's more intimidating," he said.

Luckily, he overcomes that nervousness, though he's still a tough self-critic. He thought his voice was too dry at the Heroux inauguration.

Asked if he would ever consider a professional career, Burgo said he didn't think so.

Though that would not be unprecedented given the talent in New Bedford, he said, including his friends the Johnson siblings — Samantha, Marlena, Kelci, Irvin Jr., Noah, and Kennedy. "They're all singers. They all have amazing voices."

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And that talent runs in his own family, as well.

Burgo's grandfather Hector Barros Sr. started his own Cape Verdean band, where he sang and played the saxophone. His son and Burgo's uncle, Hector Barros Jr., was a member of "Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch." He is still involved with the group and they now perform under the name of "The Funk B's." His brother Marcel Burgo and their cousins Josh Martinez and Matt Martinez started a rap group together under the name of "Reality."

His family, though, is probably even better known for sports. His father was the third ranked linebacker in the state during his senior year at Greater New Bedford Vocational Technical High School. His uncle Hector was one of New Bedford High School's best basketball players. His cousins Dana and Dale Burgo are New Bedford High School Hall of Famers while his cousin Ron Andrews was inducted into the Fairhaven Hall of Fame last year.

But sports wasn't for him, he said. "I just couldn't find the passion or enjoyment in it."

When asked why, he would always joke, "I can't carry a football but I can carry a tune."

And more evidence of that is likely to come in upcoming City Council sessions.

"I think now I'm always going to have a song prepared," he laughed.

This article originally appeared on Standard-Times: New Bedford City Councilor Shane Burgo can carry a tune