For over 25 years Robert Jones has been a champion of American Roots music, with a special emphasis on traditional African American music. He is also a storyteller, a preacher, an artist, and a teacher. The Mississippi Valley Blues Society presents Robert Jones as its February Blues in the Schools artist-in-residency February 8-12 for workshops at area schools and open-to-the-public performances:
- Wednesday, Feb. 10, 6-8 p.m., Cool Beanz, 1325 30th St., Rock Island, IL
- Thursday, Feb. 11, 6:00 p.m., River Music Experience, Davenport, IA
Robert Jones says, "Stories, spirituals, blues, work songs, field hollers, country music, folk songs, gospel and original songs are all a part of fabric of America's culture. This is the music that gave the world blues, jazz, R&B, bluegrass, rock and even Hip Hop. They give insight into the way that we have lived and the ways that we continue to live together. I feel it is the responsibility of the artist to pass along and to build upon that which has been learned from earlier generations."
Robert Jones plays guitar, fiddle, harmonica, quills, banjo and mandolin. He's played with John Hammond, the Holmes Brothers, Hubert Sumlin, Cephas & Wiggins, Keb Mo', Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady, Howard Armstrong, Nappy Brown, Roy BookBinder, David Bromberg, Chris Smither, Guy Davis, Pinetop Perkins, Saffire, and Willie Dixon. This faculty member at Wayne State University, Port Townsend Blues Week. and Fur Peace Ranch is the recipient of the international Blues Foundation's 2007 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Education and was the 2010 Teller-in-Residence—National Storytelling Center, Jonesborough TN.
Robert Jones was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1956. His father was from West Pointe, Mississippi and his mother hailed from Conecuh County, Alabama. Consequently, Robert grew up in Detroit in a very Southern household. Early on Robert Jones fell under the influence of his maternal grandmother's record collection. He grew up listening to and loving a wide variety of music, especially the blues.
By the age of 17 Robert had already amassed a record collection of early blues and begun to teach himself guitar and harmonica. By his mid-twenties Robert was hosting an award-winning radio show on WDET-FM, Detroit called "Blues From the Lowlands." Concentrating primarily on traditional acoustic blues, Robert started performing at some of Detroit's best music venues including the Soup Kitchen Saloon, The Ark, and Sully's. Those early venues led to a touring career that included the Chicago Blues Festival, King Biscuit Blues Festival, Duluth Blues Festival and tours throughout Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic.
Influenced by legendary bluesman Willie Dixon, Robert developed an educational program called, "Blues For Schools". This program has literally taken him into classrooms all over the country, and for approximately the next 15 years Robert polished his craft as both as a performer and a music educator.
Still, Robert considers his greatest honor to be his call to the gospel of ministry. Robert began to study under Rev. James Robinson, Sr. at the Sweet Kingdom Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit. Emphasizing the cultural, historical and educational aspects of blues, Jones began to think of his music as an outreach of his ministry. Essentially, he was a singer who preached. However, the death of his pastor in January of 1999 would change the direction of Jones' life and his music.
In 2002, with his home church in the fourth year of upheaval at the loss of its leader, and with no end to the confusion in sight, Robert was called by his church to become its next pastor. Over a period of a few months Robert started the process of becoming a preacher who sings instead of a singer that preaches. During this period Robert Jones gave up his highly rated radio program and essentially gave up performing. He reshaped is "Blues For Schools" program into "American Roots Music In Education" (ARMIE), a program that could encompass a wider variety of music including spirituals, gospel, and folk music.
2006 marked a decided return to performance. Especially influenced by sacred musicians such as Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Willie Johnson, Rev. Dan Smith, Joshua White, Blind Connie Williams and Rev. Robert Wilkins, Rev. Robert B. Jones now presents "Holy Blues" to new audiences. Whether he is performing alone, with his good friend Matt Watroba or with his wife of twenty years, Sister Bernice Jones, Rev. Jones is now enjoying, more than ever, the thrill of making music and spreading the blues gospel to ever expanding audiences.
New audiences have included the National Storytelling Festival (Jonesborough TN), the Just Stories Festival in Chicago, IL, MerleFest in NC, Wheatland Festival—Remus MI, and Manchester and Stamford, England, and workshop and school residencies in London, ON, Canada; Fredricton, New Brunswick, Canada; Summer Acoustic Music Week at Geneva Point, NH; Jorma Kaukonen's Fur Peace Ranch in Pomeroy, OH; Swannanoa Traditional Song Week at Warren Wilson College inNC, Port Townsend WA Blues Week, and others.
Among Robert's new pursuits is a program that will combine storytelling, vocals, instrumental music and artwork to explore and showcase the earliest known aspects of African American music and culture. In other words, Robert is looking to explore and share the music and stories that came before the blues. Robert continues to share his love and fascination for the roots and branches of the blues.