At 19 - though not of the then-legal voting age of 21 - Mr. Burns registered as a Democrat and became the first black member of the 7th Ward's powerful Bohemian Club. The young Mr. Burns began corralling votes for members while building his own political base.

Mr. Schmoke said the Eastside Democratic Organization that resulted was "in some respects a throwback to an older era in American politics, but it was very effective."

"What he did was build an organization that not only won elections but provided services to people," said Mr. Schmoke. "He created a community development corporation that provided housing, established a health care center and worked in partnership with Johns Hopkins to create jobs for thousands of families in East Baltimore.

"When you think about what political organizations did at the beginning of the 20th century in places like Boston and New York and Chicago, that was the kind of organization he created. What he was able to do was build several generations of political leadership out of East Baltimore."

Educated in a segregated public school system, Mr. Burns served in the Army Air Forces in the latter years of World War II and attained the rank of staff sergeant.

Jazz all night long

He studied for 2 1/2 years at the Larry London Music School and was an expert on New Orleans Dixieland jazz, with a vast collection of records. He would readily tell of his early love of jazz, traveling to New York's 52nd Street as a young man to hear the great musicians.

"Billie Holiday was a good friend of mine; she lived on Bond Street, about four blocks from my house," he once recalled. "I would go up on a train to New York and she'd be singing all night long in some club and she'd let me stay in her apartment up there."

Last night, Del. Howard P. Rawlings said Mr. Burns' death represents "the passing of an extraordinary period in the African-American political life."

"He was a consummate politician in the sense that he enjoyed his work, he reached out to the total community - not just the African-American community, but the white community, the Jewish community, the Italian community, the Polish community. And he was well loved by all of us." He died at the age of 84.

Johnathon E. Briggs and Laura Vozzella
Originally published January 13, 2003