Sunday, June 11, 2017

How Robbie Bartlett Ends Each Performance on a High Note

By Lucy M. Pritchett



Above all, this woman is an entertainer, delighting audiences with her brand of jazz and old R&B. Think Etta James, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, and Marvin Gaye. Her first solo performance was at age 4 when she treated the church congregation to her version of The Lord Will Make a Way Somehow. You might even catch her singing while mowing the grass on one of her two — yes, two — John Deere lawn tractors. Photo by Melissa Donald.

First inkling that you were going to be an entertainer?
I was 4 years old and my mother asked, “Do you want to sing today?” I had no fear. I stood next to the piano in church, threw back my head, and sang The Lord Will Make a Way Somehow. That was at Miles Memorial CME Church, right around the corner from where I live now. I remember I had on black patent leather shoes and white fold-down socks, but I can’t for the life of me remember the color of my dress. I sang that song just like my mother would have sung it.

Early challenges in your career?
There are bumps in being a band leader. I had to learn to handle things that were going wrong right away. I had to learn how to talk to the band members about how they looked and acted on stage because what the audience saw reflected on me. That included them talking on stage or smoking...something they needed to do on break, not on stage.

A defining moment?
I was 17 and I put together my first band called Absolute Energy. It was then that I understood my passion for what I was doing.

Describe yourself in three words.
Friendly, loving, passionate.

Top three songs?
At Last by Etta James, Ribbon in the Sky, and All in Love is Fair, both by Stevie Wonder. I love emotional songs.

A trait about yourself that you have accepted?
I am my own worst enemy. I can’t listen to my recordings because I want to go back and re-record and make it better. And, I’m nervous before every gig, but then, I should be.

How do you relax?
I watch Christmas movies all year long. I just love Christmas. My favorites are Miracle on 34th Street and the old animated claymation film Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Role model in your childhood?
My mom. She was a self-taught piano player and singer, but she only sang in church. I was a voice major at the University of South Dakota, and when I got there, I already knew how to do some of the things that they were teaching me as she had already shown me those things.

Something that’s not on your resume?
I played basketball and ran track at Fern Creek High School. In 1979 I was eighth in the nation in the 100-meter dash and voted Fastest Guard in the Midwest.

Besides your music, what do you have a passion for?
I love John Deere. I have two John Deere lawn tractors. My house is on a double lot, and I love getting on my John Deere and mowing.

Advice for someone coming up in the entertainment industry?
Practice, practice, practice. If you love what you do, you don’t get tired of practicing. It takes time to develop the flow, and you have to stay with the practice to keep the flow and timing so that everything comes together.

Accomplishment you are proud of?
I’ve toured England three times. I loved it. I played for the Midsummer Ball in Devon. It was front-page news, “U.S. Soul Singer Comes to Town.” The second time I played the headline read “U.S. Soul Singer Returns to Town.”

Treasured possession?
My mom’s piano. Her mom gave it to her. I have it in my home, which is my grandmother’s shotgun house in Germantown. I never knew my grandparents as they were deceased by the time I was born. I polish all other parts of the piano except for the wood above the keys where my mom’s long hard fingernails marked it. I won’t ever polish that part.

What’s ahead for you?
To keep working steady. I feel good. I’m not trying to slow down yet.

Life lessons you have taken to heart?
Don’t take things so seriously. I had to learn to relax and enjoy what I was doing. I don’t want it to feel like a job. If I feel like it’s a job, the audience will know it.

Your dream performance venue?
I would love to play Carnegie Hall. That would be awesome.

Parting words:
I’m blessed to be doing this for a living, and I always want to stay humble and hungry for my art. I absolutely love what I do. This is my passion. I know I was supposed to do this.





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