Robin Rogers Passes
By Don Wilcock
Soulful blues singer Robin Rogers passed away on Friday, December 17, 2010, with complications from inoperable liver cancer. She was fifty-five. The Charlotte, North Carolina-based singer and harmonica player was diagnosed with cancer in August, just one month before the release of her second Blind Pig album, Back In The Fire. Just two days before her death she was nominated for a 2011 Blues Music Award as Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year and had been invited to perform on the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise in January.
Bill Wax, host of B. B. King’s Bluesville on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio will air a special segment on Rogers Monday, December 20 at 3 p.m. EST. Five songs from a live session she recorded with her band at Sirius/XM will be played including “Ain’t No Use,” “Can You hear Me Now,” and “Color Blind Angel,” a moving account of the life and death of white civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo, who was assassinated by the Ku Klux Klan in 1965. Also featured will be “Conjure Man” and Big Maybelle’s “Don’t Love Poor Me.” Wax will also play selections from her two Blind Pig albums Treat Me Right, released in 2008, and Back in The Fire.
Following the announcement of her medical condition in August there had been an outpouring of support from fans and the blues community around the country. Benefit concerts and fundraisers have been held in Colorado, Washington, New York, Michigan, New Jersey, and North Carolina to raise funds for Rogers and her husband and music collaborator Tony Rogers, who have depended on touring for their income.
Reporting for BluesWax on the October 24 benefit in Charlotte, North Carolina, Contributing Editor Stacey Jeffress wrote: “When Robin and her husband Tony arrived at the benefit, she spotted me and exclaimed, ‘You came all this way?’ [Stacey lives in Kansas] While she shed a few tears, I had to choke back mine when I saw how frail she looked. As the evening progressed, she seemed to soak up the energy emanating from the hundreds of friends in attendance as she refused to remain in the green room where she could sit and greet a few well-wishers at a time. Robin spent hours mingling, signing autographs, and posing for pictures while Tony attempted in vain to provide some loving protection from everyone who wanted a few minutes of her time.”
The numerous efforts by fans and friends to help Rogers were a response to her warmth and demonstrated concern for others. For years she worked tirelessly in support of numerous organizations, associations for various illnesses, women’s shelters, animal shelters, public radio stations, hospices, and individuals with medical conditions from kidney problems to cancer. Robin’s social conscience was evident in her songwriting as well. On her new CD she deals with the issue of domestic violence with “Don’t Walk Away Run,” urging a friend to leave an abusive partner.
As a runaway teen in the late 1960s, Robin spent time in reform school and developed serious addictions to drugs and alcohol after being released at fifteen years of age. She also started singing, taught herself guitar, and began performing at house parties, on street corners, and in coffeehouses. In 1979 recorded for Sal Soul, eventually kicking her addictions in 1989. In 1990 she met her husband, guitarist Tony Rogers. The two began performing as an acoustic blues duo with Rogers turning more and more attention to her harp playing. Producer and drummer Jim Brock heard the duo and recorded a debut album, 2001′s Time for Myself. Now working with a full band, which included her husband on guitar, Rogers signed with the 95North label and released 2004′s Crazy Cryin’ Blues, which was again produced by Brock. She signed with Blind Pig Records in 2008.
Blind Pig co-owner Jerry Del Guidice said: “I was sent a demo of Robin’s first record on Blind Pig Treat Me Right by producer Scott Cable. He didn’t produce the record, but he spoke highly of Robin’s work ethic and her attitude. After listening to the recording, I told him that I thought it had a lot of merit, but that I didn’t sign developing artists to the label without seeing a live performance. Scott called a few days later and said that Robin happened to be playing in Chicago within the next week at a club called Rosa’s and that she would be performing only one set that was to start a 9 p.m. Rosa’s is only a ten-minute ride from my office so I left at 9 p.m. figuring I could just sneak in while Robin was on the bandstand.
“To my surprise, when I arrived at the almost empty club she was waiting somewhat impatiently at the front door. I walked in, she said ‘are you Jerry?’ I said, ‘Yes’ and then she ran for the stage. They put on a great show and we signed her to the label. I found out that night that she paid all the expenses for the band to come to Chicago and played the gig just so I could see the band.
“Robin always struck me as someone who felt she didn’t have a moment to spare. She was constantly in motion. I found out more about the details of her life as we continued to work together. I also became aware that her artistry and her integrity were two things she would not compromise and how genuinely she cared about others in need. She was always ready to donate her time and her performances for a good cause.
“She was diagnosed with terminal cancer shortly before the release of Back In The Fire. She told me that although she didn’t want to carry this burden, it was hers to carry and she would do the very best she could with every moment she had left. She also told me on more than one occasion that she felt that she had been blessed and that her musical realizations and the love that she shared with her husband Tony were more that most people could hope for.
“I read a Russian proverb sometime ago that goes something like this: When you are born you cry while everyone around you laughs. If you lead a good life, when you die you laugh while everyone around you cries.
“I’m sure she’s having a well deserved laugh. As we cry we have to remember what a wonderful laugh that was and how sorely it will be missed.”
Steve Hecht, Rogers’ agent and friend commented, “She was the most genuine what-you-see-is-what-you-get person I ever met. There was never a hint of ulterior motive in anything she did. The interest she took when meeting fans and strangers was genuine and inspiring. She really wanted to know people and what their stories were. She was generous to people. When I first met her she was always busy performing at and creating events as fundraisers for different people and organizations…and of course for animals as well. The connections she forged with people through her personality and music were amazing. Her stories drew people in to her but it didn’t end there. She engaged those fans who usually became friends. There wasn’t any phoniness in the warmth of her smiles. She meant it.”
Blind Pig’s other co-owner Edward Chmelewski commented, “We feel a tremendous sense of loss about Robin’s passing. Robin was part of our family. She was truly an uncommon talent, able to wring every ounce of emotion out of every note she sang. Losing a person and artist of her caliber is very, very sad. We will miss her tremendously.”
Sirius/XM’s Bill Wax commented on her passing: “Not only was Robin Rogers a wonderful artist, but, more important, a fabulous person. It’s really hard when bad things happen to good people. In my own personal mind I remember a fabulous moment at the Flying Saucer in Memphis during the Blues Music Awards. My heartfelt condolences go out to her band and her husband Tony.” Wax will be airing a tribute show to Rogers on Monday, December 20. Check their Web site for details.
Blind Pig Producer Scott Cable calls Robin Rogers “one of the most sincere, loving people I have ever met. Everyone has a mission in life, and I believe Robin accomplished hers and was called home. Robin’s mission was to spread hope, beautiful music and inspiration. All of these she did with equal passion. I will miss her laugh, love, and song as part of my day.”
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