Reginald R. Robinson
(Photo by Kymon Kyndred)
Mississippi State University
February 18, 2016
STARKVILLE, Miss.— Self-taught, against-the-grain musician and composer Reginald R. Robinson is among some of the world’s most talented pianists who will be performing during Mississippi State University Libraries' 10th annual Charles H. Templeton Ragtime and Jazz Festival.
“I’ve never been to Mississippi, and this festival is a great reason to make my first visit,” the Chicago native said. “Aside from performing at the 10th annual Ragtime and Jazz Festival, I very much look forward to hearing the other wonderful musicians.”
Robinson, the festival’s first African American performer, said he developed an interest in music by listening to other African American musicians and composers. They included Louis Chauvin (1881-1908), Harry P. Guy (1870-1950), Joe Jordan (1882-1971) and James Scott (1885-1938).
“Immediately after hearing those guys, I just became so excited about what I was hearing. I would listen to their music over and over again, and I decided that I wanted to make my own pieces,” Robinson said.
Robinson said he never got to spend much time playing it, but having the opportunity to try out the electric organ at his now-late aunt’s house contributed to his initial fascination with the keyboard. That interest, he said, laid dormant for approximately six years until the time when his second oldest brother Marlando started playing music in the home.
As for ragtime, Robinson said that his appreciation for the music style was inspired by a special occasion at school.
“One day, visiting musicians came and put on a show that covered many different styles, from early classical music through modern jazz,” he recalled. “During the middle of the program, I heard Scott Joplin’s ‘Entertainer.’ At the time I had no idea who Scott Joplin was, but I recognized that song. It was catchy and fascinating, and I decided that I wanted to find out more about that kind of music and play it.”
Though unable to afford music lessons, Robinson’s parents were able to provide him with a piano. At the age of 13, he began teaching and quizzing himself on how to read and write music.
Robinson said he remembers referencing the book “Scott Joplin: Piano Rags” while listening to the composer’s music on old piano rolls. Along with reading sheet music, Robinson learned how to distinguish a ragtime composition with help from his older brothers’ music books from school.
“My third older brother Michael felt that my new interest in ragtime was just a temporary phase,” Robinson said. “I remember saying, ‘No, this is not a phase that I’m going through; this is something I really want to do for my life.’”
Scheduled to speak with MSU students during his campus visit, the award-winning performer and recording artist is looking to share his knowledge and childhood passion with younger generations. He enjoys opportunities to visit schools, where he can interact with students while presenting educational programs on the history of ragtime.
“I tell children that back when I was learning in the late 80s and 90s, there was no Internet,” Robinson said. “Now, people can get on a computer and find out practically everything they want to know about ragtime.”
Robinson said he encourages students and others interested in learning more about ragtime—and music in general—to do so by listening, rather than watching.
“When I discovered Scott Joplin’s music, I didn’t see somebody playing it on a video; I heard it,” he emphasized. “Videos such as those on YouTube are nice, but they can give you the wrong impression. If you want to hear Joplin or other early ragtime pianists, listen to their music from the series of piano roll transcriptions by Biograph Records. I think those are much more authentic.”
Taking place March 31-April 2, The Charles H. Templeton Ragtime and Jazz Festival presented by MSU Libraries at the university's Mitchell Memorial Library will feature performances by Robinson, as well as other world-renowned musicians in a setting that has come to be known for its warmth, hospitality and uniqueness.
The Templeton Festival is made possible with support from the Starkville Convention and Visitors Council and Starkville Area Arts Council, as well the Mississippi Arts Commission and National Endowment for the Arts.
For more event information, visit http://library.msstate.edu/festival, telephone 662-325-6634 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow the MSU Libraries on facebook.com/msulibrary and twitter.com/msu_libraries.
Additional biographical information on Robinson may be found at www.reginaldrrobinson.com.
MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.