Gospel maestro Robert Robinson: a beloved institution

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Twin Cities maestro Robert Robinson is a beloved institution. The mere mention of his name brings to mind state-of-the-art excellence in sheer, unsurpassed vocal prowess. His newly released discs, The Faith Project and The Spirit of the Season are stocking stuffers you can’t miss with when shopping for the Gospel music lover on your list. As his tour takes off, you can catch the legendary Mr. Robinson with Holly Collison, Twin Cities Community Gospel Choir and backed by a nine-piece orchestra on Dec. 15, 3:00 and 8:00 p.m., Benson Great Hall, on the Campus of Bethel College in Arden Hills (651-638-6333 or 866-424-4849). Doesn’t matter what kind of year you’ve been having, you’ll leave that concert feeling profoundly uplifted. Robert Robinson granted Insight News an interview to discuss his craft and career.

INSIGHT NEWS: Why did you decide to release two albums at the same time?

ROBERT ROBINSON: Well, to be honest, it wasn’t my initial desire to release two projects at the same time. I started The Faith Project over two years ago. However, I was working with a very busy musician and producer [Giorge Pettus], so it took a while to get everything done, mixed and mastered and ready for release. Which just happened to be the same time that Spirit of the Season was scheduled to be released. I thought I might as well promote both projects during the holiday season.

IN: Are the musicians from Spirit of the Season on The Faith Project?

RR: No. The Faith Project was predominantly performed and produced by Giorge Pettus, music director at Speak the Word Church International. “He’s Sweet I Know” was the only [exception]. On the other hand, on Spirit of the Season we used a variety of people. Gordy Johnson (bass), Peter Johnson (drums), Cliff Wittstruck (guitar), Lee Blaske (piano, organ). Mark Henderson arranged [and] played saxophone along with several wonderful wind players. Most of the background vocals were done by Twin Cities Community Gospel Choir. That’s the choir I have directed for the past seventeen-and-a-half years. Holly Collison was my guest vocalist and Jamar Esaw and TRIAD 4 Christ did a fabulous job on background vocals [for] “Silent Night.”

IN: How pleased are you with how the albums came out?

RR: I am very happy with the final product on both CDs. They are different, which is what I was hoping for. I would like to be known as an artist that is capable of handling all styles of music. Of course, I’m [still] working on it.

IN: How’s the exposure coming for them?

RR: I have been fortunate enough to recently appear on KARE-11 and KSTP. I am hoping to work on radio promotion very soon. Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to have some of my Christmas music from Spirit of the Season played on KMOJ.

IN: You’ve been dubbed the “Black Pavarotti.” I have yet, however, to hear anyone referred to as a “white Paul Robeson.” It’s too bad they can’t refer to you in your own cultural context.

RR: I don’t have a problem with people who coin phrases like the “Black Pavarotti” for a Black man who predominantly performs Gospel music. I believe they are trying to pay you the best compliment that they can. I certainly don’t hear myself as an opera singer, but I do like opera and classical music. In my listening to different styles over the years, I didn’t ask God to make me sound like that. I just heard the vocal clarity and strength in opera and began to apply some of the vocal principles of it in what I do as a Gospel singer. The result of the mix is what you hear in my voice when I perform.

IN: You used to do the annual Lorie Line show at the State Theater. When did that stop and how come? Will you and she be working together again?

RR: Yes, I performed and toured with Lorie Line and her Pop Chamber Orchestra for fifteen years. I had a wonderful time and learned a lot. I decided to leave the group to pursue doing my own holiday concerts. I’m not getting any younger. Instead of spending the rest of my life in the shadows of someone great, I wanted to begin working on my own dreams and aspirations. [Which are] to one day create tours for myself in the United States and abroad. Lorie is a great person and I will always be grateful [for] the doors she opened which helped to take my music and voice to a broader audience.

IN: What’s next?

RR: I am working on creating more opportunities to tour various parts of the country and the world. My agents understand what it is I want to do with my gift of song and they are working to help bring that to fruition. I’m not doing any personal recordings for a while. However, I’m really interested in doing another inspirational album someday. I already have selections that I’d love to record. I just need to see what the future holds. It’s all in God’s hands!

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