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Edward Robinson

Gospel pianist Edward Robinson was born in 1933. At a young age, Robinson sat down at his older brother's piano and began playing the song "Does Jesus Care" by ear. This experience began a lifetime dedicated to gospel music.

After his family moved to Chicago from Birmingham, Alabama, Robinson started playing piano for Louis Bodie. He became an accompanist for Mahalia Jackson and traveled the world with her for seventeen years. While traveling with Mahalia Jackson, he played gospel songs at the White House for five presidents, performed before European royalty and took the stage at New York's legendary Carnegie Hall. He has also performed with Aretha Franklin, Albertina Walker, Sam Cooke, The Caravans, Gladys Knight and Robert Anderson.

Despite his professional success, Robinson remained faithful to his gospel roots. In 1997, Mayor Richard Daley and the City of Chicago honored Robinson as one of Chicago's pioneers of gospel music. Former Illinois Governor George Ryan also honored him as a historian.

In his later years, Robinson worked as the pianist for the St. Andrew Temple Choir and as chapel musician for Leak and Sons Funeral Directors. Robinson also traveled the world as the pianist for Willie Wilson. He passed away in November of 2014, at the age of 81.

Edward Robinson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 23, 2003.

Accession Number

A2003.094

Sex

Male

Interview Date

4/29/2003

Last Name

Robinson

Maker Category
Occupation
Organizations
Schools

Lincoln Middle School

A.H. Parker High School

Eureka Elementary School.

First Name

Edward

Birth City, State, Country

Birmingham

HM ID

ROB06

Favorite Season

None

State

Alabama

Favorite Vacation Destination

Honolulu, Hawaii

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Birth Date

5/10/1933

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Fish, Greens

Death Date

11/10/2014

Short Description

Gospel pianist Edward Robinson (1933 - 2014 ) is recognized as one of Chicago's pioneers of gospel music and has accompanied Mahalia Jackson, Aretha Franklin, and many others.

Employment

Delete

Rev. C. L Franklin

Rev. Louis Body

Favorite Color

Red

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Edward Robinson narrates his photographs

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Slating of Edward Robinson's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Edward Robinson lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Edward Robinson describes his mother, Althea Robinson

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Edward Robinson describes his father, Gilbert Robinson

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Edward Robinson describes his memories of growing up in the Robinson household

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Edward Robinson describes how he learned to play the piano

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Edward Robinson describes his teachers from his grade school years in Birmingham, Alabama

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Edward Robinson talks about the beginning of his musical career and pianist Evelyn Hardy of the Gospel Harmonettes

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Edward Robinson talks about entering the gospel music scene in Chicago, Illinois as a teenager

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Edward Robinson talks about how he became Mahalia Jackson's accompanist

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Edward Robinson talks about touring with Mahalia Jackson

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Edward Robinson talks about the development of his musical style

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Edward Robinson compares working for Aretha Franklin to working with Mahalia Jackson

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Edward Robinson talks about teaching music in the Chicago Park District

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Edward Robinson reflects upon his music career

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Edward Robinson describes his personal life

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Edward Robinson talks about his professional life at seventy years old

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Edward Robinson talks about Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Edward Robinson talks about the end of Mahalia Jackson's life

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Edward Robinson reflects upon his blessed career

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Edward Robinson talks about his association with Nat King Cole and the Cole family

DASession

1$1

DATape

1$2

DAStory

7$1

DATitle
Edward Robinson describes how he learned to play the piano
Edward Robinson talks about how he became Mahalia Jackson's accompanist
Transcript
How old were you when you started taking to music?$$You know, I never read music. It was a God-given gift. My mother [Althea Robinson] had my second--her second oldest, William, taking--well, he was taking music, and I would hear what he was doing and go to the piano and just start playing. Yeah. And that went on around 'bout two or three years before we came to Chicago [Illinois].$$How old were you when you just started playing?$$I was around 'bout--around 'bout 12; 12 or 13.$$Do you remember what you were thinking of your ability to just go and play? What did they think?$$Well, I experienced--the Lord woke me up early that morning around about 5:00. My mother was cooking breakfast for my daddy [Gilbert Mason] to go to the steel mill. And I slid out of the bed, and I went up--and she had bought an upright piano for my brother, not for me, my brother. I slid out the bed, I went to the piano and started playing "Does Jesus Care?" And my mother walked--she had--making biscuits; she was making biscuits. She walked up and she said, "Oh, William, where you learn that from?" She called me my brother William, 'cause she had him--"Where you learn--that sound heavenly." And then I say, "Mama, this not William. This Edward." And she turned the lights on. I was getting to the piano so fast, I was playing in the dark. Yeah.$$Did that surprise you?$$Well, I guess it was happening so fast. I mean, now, even with the early years, I just had to marvel over myself what God has done. No music lesson, no nothing. I just went and started playing.$$Oh, that's something.$$It was unbelievable.$Okay. Now, we're in Chicago [Illinois] and you've hooked up with Mahalia Jackson.$$Yeah.$$Trace for me how that all unfolded and how you became her accompanist.$$Well, Mahalia was--I was playing for Reverend [Louis] Boddie. She would go there every Sunday evening at 3:00. And she said, "Edward?" I said, "Yes, Miss Jackson." "Would you like to go to California? I just want a different sound on my records. You can come back to the house and we'll rehearse numbers and I'll carry you out to Hollywood," and I said, "Fine." Well, we just know each other like, you know, close, close, close friends, 'cause I would go to her house on Prairie. She would do hair. She was fixing hair then in the early '50s [1950s]. She was fixing hair, had a beauty shop. And she didn't know that she was going to be that big, you know. So she--I went out there and we rehearsed the numbers. And I played the numbers on--we went to California; Hollywood, California. We done the album that she wanted to do. I was on my way back to Chicago. She paid us all, and on the way back to Chicago, the man--the president, the vice-president--said, "Mahalia, who is that boy playing for you?" He said, "If I was a singer, I have him playing for me." She looked for me all over Chicago--all over Los Angeles [California]. All over Los Angeles. And then one of the gospel singers out there said, "Edward, Mahalia looking for you." I said, "Well, I'm catching a plane tonight." "She looking for you, boy." I said, "Well, I'll go out to the hotel." I went out to her hotel. She said, "You know, I made a second thought about you going to Chicago. You got to stay with me. I'm going six weeks out here." "But see, when I get--I told Reverend Boddie I would be back. He depending on me." (Laughs). So she say, "I'll call Boddie. I'll call him and get you off the hook. And you stay here with me." So she called him and I talked to him and we went all over, then this is when I started playing for her then, you know.$$And her name again?$$Who? Mahalia?$$Oh. That was Mahalia.$$Yes.$$She was staying out there? Oh, she. Okay.$$She was working back to Chicago after her after her recording session. She was going to work six weeks coming back to Chicago.$$Okay.$$So the man told her said, "I would have him working for me." He wasn't no singer, though. He was just a vice president of Columbia Records. And she took it up--took him up at his word and hired me for her personal musician. And I worked for her about 16 years.$$What year was it when she took you in?$$That was 'round '58 [1958].$$So you never went back to Reverend Boddie?$$No. I come back and he had let me come back to the choir. Oh, yeah. You come back, we'd have days that we'd be off and after that, I started working for Reverend [C.L.] Franklin, Aretha [Franklin]'s daddy. They was good friends. [Reverend Dr.] Martin Luther King [Jr.], all them tie in together with Mahalia, 'cause we would go over to Martin Luther King to do freedom rallies. New York all the way back out to California, again.