Musician and Storyteller
Reverend Robert Jones, Sr. is a singer, storyteller and self taught multi-instrumentalist. He uses folk, blues, spirituals and other American Roots music to champion the beauty and power of our shared culture. A lifelong Detroiter, Rev. Jones has been performing professionally for nearly 30 years for festivals, schools, civil rights organizations and churches.
Robert B. Jones has more than twenty-five 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. Those early venues however led to a touring career that included the Chicago Blues Festival, King Biscuit Blues Festival, Helena, AK, Duluth Blues Festival and tours throughout Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic.
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 as both as a performer and a music educator.
To see an archived story on Robert's educational program: CLICK HERE
My name is Robert Bernard Jones, Sr. and I am a musician, a storyteller, a teacher, an artist, and a preacher. Over the past 30 years I have been blessed to make a significant portion of my living through music, storytelling and art, and I look forward to continuing to do so. In that time I have enjoyed a benefit of perspective that is fairly unique. For example, while I am conversant with academic approaches to black music, I also had the joy of learning the music empirically. I have taught in the classroom things that I learned in both churches and barrooms.
In the 18th and 19th centuries African and European music fused in the Deep South to produce the unique music that we now know as American Roots Music. This Roots music led to the development of the Spiritual, Blues, Jazz, Gospel, Country & Western, Bluegrass, Old Time Folk, Swing, Rhythm and Blues, Rock, Rap and just about every other form of American popular music. The word “Roots” present a near perfect metaphor, because roots are tangled. Part of my creative vision is to “untangle those roots” in a way that is understandable by the average person.
While it is not uncommon to talk about “tolerance” in discussions of cultural diversity, I think that it is important that we move beyond mere tolerance and towards a celebration of cultural diversity. We need to develop a better understanding of the culture and the people that produced this music. Black work songs, for example, give us an appreciation of how an African culture adapted and used the technology of music and movement to accomplish backbreaking and monotonous tasks in America. Early African American religious songs and practices reveal the earliest roots of an American born Liberation Theology. The coded spirituals used as a part of the Underground Railroad to pass along information, were modified 100 years later as a part of a Civil Rights movement to promote courage and as a strategy of passive resistance. On the other hand, American music, as we know it, would not exist without European instruments, melodies and technologies. My work involves exploring those stories that illustrate the historical complexity of the interaction of black and white people in America.
Throughout my career I have tried to use my talents to both entertain and to teach. I have been privileged to share this music on the stage, on the radio and in classrooms. Too often, African American music and culture has been explained and defined by people who stand outside of it. This music, however, is a part of my life. I study it and play it everyday. As an artist I am inspired to create and pass on what I know about African American Roots music and the culture that produced it.