Band Director: 1939-81
During his 42-year association with the Packers, Burke built the Lumberjack Band into a unit which not only became synonymous with the team, but gained its own fame and following through its lively performances at both games and special events. Vince Lombardi once called it “the best playing band in the National Football League.” Along with directing the band, Burke also could pitch in and play the saxophone. His duties included arranging the Packers’ halftime shows. In 1966, Burke was named chairman of the National Football League’s halftime directors.
“He was a good band director,” said Lovell Ives, who served in Burke’s band for 13 years and then replaced him as director in 1982. “He kept it organized, and he promoted the band and played around town. The old guys in the band respected him.”
Actually, Burke first played in the makeshift Lumberjack Band as far back as the early 1930s. The origin of the early ’Jacks, as they were known, dated to 1921, the Packers’ first year in what is now the NFL. They were a loosely knit outfit that dressed in lumberjack attire and enjoyed partying before and after games as much as entertaining the crowds. In 1939, the Packers took control of the band and Burke was named business manager. A year later, he was named band director and held the title until he resigned prior to the 1982 season. At the height of its popularity, the band also played for special Packers events and rallies, and marched in parades and played for stage shows throughout Wisconsin. Over Burke’s last two decades as director, the group was known as the Green Bay Packer Band.
Born May 12, 1908, in Green Bay. Given name Wilner Edward Burke. Died June 14, 1985, at age 77.
- By Cliff Christl