Leona Burkey paints St. Peter’s blue for Autism Nova Scotia

HALIFAX: Singer/songwriter Leona Burkey was named one of the recipients of the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award, in recognition of volunteer efforts, back in 1999.

She was just getting started.

In the years since, Burkey has worked in community development and served as an advocate for people living with brain injuries, motivated by watching her younger sister, Bridget, navigate the system, as well as supporting people on the autism spectrum, like her son, Zach. The latter cause brings her home to Richmond County for a special Shine Blue show on Nov. 26 at the Bras d’Or Lakes Inn in St. Peter’s.

In all began with a song that Burkey wrote for her young son who loved the water and getting hit by the waves.

“Boy, oh boy, you’re my wonder and I wonder what you see,” she sings in “Wave Theory,” before pleading, “there’s nothing in this godforsaken world that I need but for you to talk to me. Please talk to me.”

While some have mistaken the tune for a song about a love interest that is the strong, silent type, it struck a chord with the autism community and has inspired seven years of Shine Blue fundraising concerts, growing legs “in the loveliest way.”

Now 13 years old and high-functioning, Zach enjoys the song he inspired, the song that became the title track to his mother’s first full-length CD, released in 2015.

“It’s a bit of an anthem for us because his fascination with water and waves has continued his whole life and is part of the wonder of having a kid on the spectrum. He’s wired totally differently so he helps us to see the world in a different way.”

Burkey is excited to perform with St. Peter’s native and McGinty member Roger Stone for the St. Peter’s show, the proceeds of which will benefit the Strait area chapter of Autism Nova Scotia.

Fresh off a show in Fredericton at the Tipsy Muse Café, owned and operated by River Bourgeois native and fiddler Krista Touesnard, Burkey says she is looking forward to returning to St. Peter’s with her “old buddy Roger,” someone she says she has adored her whole life. While the two performers have played together before, this will mark their first time sharing the stage for a full show. Every penny raised will benefit the organization.

“It’s a way to celebrate neurodiversiy, inclusion, and awareness and it just makes my heart burst.”

The performance will feature songs from Burkey’s most recent release, “Sitting Tight,” which earned Burkey her first Music Nova Scotia nomination for Americana Recording of the Year. The second half of the release was recorded during COVID lockdown, when Burkey also recorded “Songs from the Stairwell,” on her Facebook page.

Burkey recently completed a seven-year stint as the executive director of the Brain Injury Association of Nova Scotia. Burkey, who calls herself “an accidental executive director,” is proud of the work the organization has done and is pleased to have worked herself out of a job.

“I was more on the advocacy side and I love fighting the good fight, but it was time. The organization outgrew me,” she says, adding it was always the goal for it grow.

With the ability to work full-time on her music, the L’Ardoise native has started the behind the scenes work of creating her next CD.

Anyone interested in supporting the Shine Blue shows can contact the Bras d’Or Lakes Inn for ticket availability or visit Burkey’s Facebook page, Leona Burkey Music.