Sunday, April 10, 2011

Folk singer & Highwaymen member Gil Robbins dies at 80.

Gil Robbins’ work as a composer and vocal director is known to TV audiences through such specials as Buffalo Bill (RKO General), Through Children’s Eyes (NBC), and Sing, America, Sing!, recorded live at the Kennedy Center for public television. He was choral director/arranger for—and acted in—the films Bob Roberts and Dead Man Walking. Mr. Robbins has been musical consultant, composer and conductor for the National Geographic Society’s American Adventure series, and was choral conductor for Missa Gaia/Earth Mass with the Paul Winter Consort. In a previous lifetime as a folk singer, he sang and played with the Robert De Cormier Singers, the Belafonte Singers, Tom Paxton, Cumberland Three, Oscar Brand and The (1960’s) Highwaymen.

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Gil Robbins, a folk singer, guitarist and member of the early 1960s group the Highwaymen, has died.

Tracey Jacobs, publicist for Robbins' son, the actor and director Tim Robbins, said in an email Saturday that Robbins died Tuesday in Esteban Cantu, Mexico. He was 80.

Shortly before Gil Robbins joined the Highwaymen, the group had a major hit with "Michael," their version of "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore." When Robbins joined in 1962, he took the group in a more political direction, playing and singing on five albums until their 1964 breakup.

Tim Robbins, star of "The Shawshank Redemption" and director of "Dead Man Walking," issued a statement calling him "a fantastic father and a great musician" with a "commitment to social justice."

As a freshman in 1958, Dave Fisher, who in high school had sung in a doo-wop group, joined with four other Wesleyan freshman – Bob Burnett, Steve Butts, Chan Daniels, and Steve Trott – to form the Highwaymen. Fisher was the quintet's arranger and lead singer. In 1959, United Artists released his arrangement of the spiritual “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore” while the group were sophomores in college. The recording reached #1 in the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1961 under the abbreviated title of “Michael”, earning the quintet the gold record. The single also reached #1 in UK[6] and #4 in Germany. Later members were Gilbert (Gil) Robbins (father of actor Tim Robbins) and classical guitarist, Johann Helton. Today, three of the original five members are still alive, with Daniels dying in 1975 and Fisher in 2010. Ten albums have been recorded to date.

With Mr. Robbins aboard, singing baritone and playing the guitarrón, an oversize Mexican six-string guitar, The Highwaymen maintained its popularity while continuing a transition to more socially conscious music. Mr. Robbins performed on the five albums that the group recorded for United Artists before disbanding in 1964, including the live albums “Hootenanny With the Highwaymen,” “One More Time” and “Homecoming.”

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