A native of Camden, N.J., Burnette got his start in the music industry at a young age, taking piano and organ lessons from Philadelphia’s Settlement Music School at age 5.
While attending Moorestown High School, from which he graduated in 1979, Burnette played seven instruments and deejayed in several Philadelphia clubs, which enabled him to secure an internship at Philadelphia International Records.
He went on to study at Syracuse University and lived for a time in Houston and New Orleans, where he worked as a songwriter and later a staff writer at Wave Records.
Burnette returned to Philadelphia in 1984 and worked as a writer for several local music companies. During the late 1980s, his original music was used in a new-age ballet and the film “Stand Back,” and he was a three-time recipient of the Fleisher Art Memorial’s Working Fund grant.
He founded WhatEver Productions in 1995 and focused his efforts on new media marketing for such clients as Nick Martinelli, Dionne Warwick and Jean Carne.
Three years ago, he created a musical adaptation of “Kitty Kelley’s Unauthorized Biography of Nancy Reagan.”
His partner of 13 years, Graham Martin, said Burnette, a longtime survivor of AIDS, was also skilled at web design and lent his talents to several nonprofits, including ActionAIDS and BEBASHI, and also created a multimedia exhibit for Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutritional Alliance’s “Shut Up and Dance” production.
Martin said Burnette was committed to helping people share the joy he found in music.
“He was passionate about encouraging people to follow their dreams in the arts world,” he said. “He didn’t have the money to finance people’s works but he gave his time, advice and encouragement to nurture them.”
Burnette was a people person, Martin said, and someone who would support those that others may have overlooked.
“He believed in people. He personified the idea that you don’t look at the outside but you look at the inside,” he said. “He looked at the inside, not just people’s shells. He looked at your heart, your soul and your spirit.”
A memorial service will be held for Burnette at 11 a.m. Dec. 17 at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 104 Louella Ave., Wayne, followed by a luncheon at Burnette’s family’s home in Radnor.
Martin said memorial contributions can be made in Burnette’s name to any local HIV/AIDS service organization.