Wihla Hutson was born in 1901 in East Gary, Indiana. She was an only child. The family moved to Detroit, Michigan in 1913. Her education was in the public schools, but she had a private tutor for piano and organ. Wihla studied at the Detroit Conservatory of Music, and was a graduate of the College of the City of Detroit, now Wayne State University. When Wihla’s father died, Wihla stayed with her mother and worked in the Diocesan office of the Episcopal Church. She did not marry.
In 1929, when she was 28 years old, Wihla became the organist at All Saints Church in Pontiac, Michigan, about 25 miles from Detroit. The pastor at All Saints was the Rev. Bates Burt, Alfred Burt’s father. Wihla retained her residence in Detroit, and drove from there to Pontiac for music rehearsals and services. However, when weather was poor, and at Christmas (when there was both a Christmas Eve service and a morning prayer service), she stayed at the rectory with the Burt family. In so doing, she became like a member of the family, many of whom called her “Aunt Wihla.” She and her mother enjoyed vacations with the Burts at their summer home in Marquette, Michigan.
At his father’s invitation, Al Burt began writing the music for the Burt family Christmas cards in 1942, with Bates continuing to supply the lyrics. (From 1922 to 1941, Rev. Bates Burt had produced both the words and the music). The new collaboration ended in 1948, when Bates Burt died of a heart attack. Al used an old English rune of hospitality, “Christ in the Stranger’s Guise,” for the lyric that year. The rune was supplied by the Reverend John Burt, Al’s brother.
Because Al’s work as a trumpet player and arranger for some of the big bands of the day required extensive travel, Wihla arranged to mail the lyrics for each year’s card to wherever the Burts happened to be. While Al developed the new melody, Anne secured the artwork, arranged to have the cards printed, and updated the lengthy mailing list, which at one time numbered 450 cards.
In 1949, when Al’s wife Anne was expecting their first (and it turned out, only) child, she asked Wihla Hutson to write a lyric for that year’s carol that could also be a lullaby. “Sleep, Baby Mine” was the result, and marked the beginning of the Burt-Hutson collaboration that would last until Al’s death in 1954. The first eight bars of “Sleep, Baby Mine” were used in March of 1950 to announce their daughter Diane’s birth.
The 1950 carol was “This Is Christmas,” sometimes also referred to as “Bright, Bright the Holly Berries, which is the first line of the lyric.” In 1951, Wihla wrote “Some Children See Him,” one of the most beloved of the Burt carols. With the U.S. engaged in the Korean War--following so closely after the Second World War with Germany and Japan--the simple but moving lyric of this carol affirmed that children of any nationality could imagine Jesus to be like them, with the underlying message that love is more important than any claim of race or nationality. In 1995, the country of Palau issued a series of stamps (which compose the background to the page) commemorating “Some Children See Him” and its message of tolerance.
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