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Evelyn Freeman Roberts

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Information about Evelyn Freeman Roberts

Profile image of Evelyn Freeman Roberts

Profession

Category:
MusicMakers
Occupation(s):
Bandleader
Music Composer
Musician

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Blue
Favorite Food:
Shrimp
Favorite Time of Year:
Spring
Favorite Vacation Spot:
None
Favorite Quote:
Education Is The Key To Success.

Birthplace

Born:
2/13/1919
Birth Location:
Cleveland, Ohio

Profession

Category:
MusicMakers
Occupation(s):
Bandleader
Music Composer
Musician

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Blue
Favorite Food:
Shrimp
Favorite Time of Year:
Spring
Favorite Vacation Spot:
None
Favorite Quote:
Education Is The Key To Success.

Birthplace

Born:
2/13/1919
Birth Location:
Cleveland
See how Evelyn Freeman Roberts is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Evelyn Freeman Roberts was born on February 13, 1919, to Gertrude Evelyn Richardson and Ernest Aaron Freeman. Roberts grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and performed music at local social events with "The Freeman Family," a group that included her brother, Ernie, and father. She also began performing locally in a classical ensemble. Roberts skipped school one day to watch Duke Ellington at Cleveland's Palace Theater and met Ellington after the performance. His music made a huge impact on Roberts, who decided at that moment that she wanted to be a bandleader. She was a bright student, and graduated ahead of her grade in 1936.

After auditioning for a scholarship at the Cleveland Institute of Music, Roberts decided to attend the Institute. Although she had less training than many of the students, Roberts had perfect pitch and was a talented sight-reader, and managed to work her way through school performing. Around 1938, she formed her own swing band, and their performances included a Cleveland Institute dance party. Roberts graduated from the Institute of Music in 1941, and as an African American, she saw no openings in classical music, so she began to focus more on her band's work.

Her group, now titled the Evelyn Freeman Swing Band, had begun performing locally, including broadcasts on Cleveland's WHK radio station and performances for the local NBC affiliate. When World War II arrived, a Navy recruiter convinced the group to join the Navy as a whole, which prevented the draft from splitting the ensemble. As a result, they had become the first all-African American Navy band, were stationed near Peru, Indiana and were nicknamed the "Gobs of Swing." Roberts herself was not recruited, although she would be later as an 'honorary member,' but in the meantime she continued performing but with a smaller ensemble, which included such future jazz stars as Ben "Bull Moose" Jackson.

In 1945, after the war ended, Roberts left Cleveland after meeting Thomas S. Roberts, her future husband. Roberts met her husband after he sought her for some musical arrangements, although it took some time before they would become romantically involved. The couple soon moved to New York City, where Roberts received significant critical accolades for her vocal arrangements for the Wings over Jordan gospel group. She also began working with Vaudeville acts, then began performing in upscale hotels in New York City. In the meantime, much of her band, now discharged from the military, went on to significant success, including members who would go on to perform with Dizzy Gillespie and Lionel Hampton.

The Evelyn Freeman Orchestra would reform in the late 1950s with new members, and released Let’s Make a Little Motion. In 1960, she released Sky High, a new album, and in 1962 released Didn’t It Rain. In the late 1960s, she moved to California and masterminded a group called The Young Saints, and in 1970, the Young Saints performed for Richard Nixon in the White House. Roberts continued to perform over the years, including a lengthy stint as a composer for television, although she would often remain in the background as an arranger, including work for Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and Louis Prima. She was the co-founder and chief administrator for the Young Saints Scholarship Foundation.

Roberts passed away on June 5, 2017 at age 98.

See how Evelyn Freeman Roberts is related to other HistoryMakers
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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Evelyn Freeman Roberts' interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts lists her favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts lists her parents' birthdates and birthplaces
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts talks about her maternal great grandmother
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts describes her maternal grandmother
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts describes her maternal grandfather
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts describes her mother's family
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts recalls visiting her maternal grandparents
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts describes her maternal grandmother's country store
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts describes her mother's experience at boarding school
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts describes her mother's education
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts describes how her parents met
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts describes her paternal great grandfather
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts describes her paternal grandparents' courtship
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts describes her father's time at Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts describes her parents' married life
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts lists her siblings
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts describes her father's occupations
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts recalls her father's music career
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts remembers John Burroughs Elementary School
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts describes Cleveland, Ohio's Central High School
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts describes the demographics of Central High School
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts recalls her decision to attend Cleveland Institute of Music
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts recalls her experience at Cleveland Institute of Music
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts recalls her brothers' educations
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts talks about her brother, Ernest Freeman, Jr.
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts recalls playing concerts with her family in Cleveland
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts remembers meeting Duke Ellington
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts recalls forming the Evelyn Freeman Swing Band
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts recalls how her swing band was recruited to the U.S. Army
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts recalls her career after her swing band's military recruitment
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts recalls meeting her husband
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts recalls arranging for the Wings Over Jordan Choir
  • Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts recalls her work arranging music in New York
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts recalls her marriage to Lloyd Gentry
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts explains her relation to Minnie Gentry and Terrence Howard
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts remembers buying a house in New York City
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts remembers touring with her children, pt. 1
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts recalls touring with her children, pt. 2
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts remembers moving to Los Angeles, California
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts recalls challenges in Los Angeles, California
  • Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts remembers working with Peggy Lee
  • Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts recalls performing on 'The Jonathan Winters Show'
  • Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts recalls the Young Saints' performance on 'The Andy Griffith Show'
  • Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts recalls working with Frankie Laine
  • Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts recalls working with Louis Prima
  • Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts remembers forming the Young Saints
  • Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts recalls the Young Saints' contract with Ashley-Famous talent agency
  • Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts recalls the Young Saints' performance on 'The Danny Kaye Show'
  • Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts recalls her classes for the Model Cities program
  • Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts describes the Young Saints program at Second Baptist Church
  • Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts talks about the success of the Young Saints
  • Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts describes her family's involvement in the Young Saints
  • Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts recalls the Young Saints' performance at the White House, pt. 1
  • Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts recalls the Young Saints' performance at the White House, pt. 2
  • Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts describes how she would like to be remembered
  • Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts reflects upon her career
  • Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Evelyn Freeman Roberts narrates her photographs