This is the Reverend Robert B. Jones’ second appearance at the Brandywine Storytelling Festival. If you saw him perform here in 2010, you’ll know why he is back for an encore this year.
Robert has more than 20 years of experience as a performer, musician, storyteller, radio producer/host, and music educator. He has opened for and played with some of the finest musicians in the world. Still, Robert considers his greatest honor to be his call to the gospel of ministry.
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.
On a personal level, in 1985 Robert met Bernice Banks at the Sweet Kingdom Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit. In October of 1986, they were married and they have been happily coupled every since.
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 both as a performer and a music educator.
Answering a call to the 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, changed the direction of Jones’ life and his music.
In 2002, with his home church in the fourth year of upheaval at the loss of it’s leader, and with no end to the confusion in sight, Robert was called by his church to become it’s 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 his ‘Blues For Schools’s’ program into ‘American Roots Music In Education’ (ARMIE), a program that could encompass a wider variety of music including spirituals, gospel and folk songs.
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.
In 2007 Robert was recognized with a ‘Keeping The Blues Alive’ award in Memphis, TN., as ‘Educator of the Year.’ In the last two years Rev. Jones also presented his American Roots Music In Education program at various venues in the United States, Canada, England and Germany.
Whether he is performing alone, with his good friend Matt Watroba or with his wife of twenty-two years, Sister Bernice Jones, Rev Robert B. Jones is now enjoying, more than ever, the thrill of making music and spreading the gospel to ever expanding audiences.
In 2009 Robert was honored with an invitation to work as a featured storyteller at the prestigious National Storytelling Festival, and he and Sister Bernice received rave reviews. Storytelling now presents Robert with another creative outlet for artistic expression and he welcomes it with enthusiasm.