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IN THE SPIRIT: Back by popular demand: Robert Robinson and Co.

Robinson "The audience had not yet left the building Feb. 11, 2006, and it was asking for more of Robert Robinson and his Twin Cities Community Gospel Choir. "We had a lot of comments in the lobby following the show and calls saying how fantastic...


"The audience had not yet left the building Feb. 11, 2006, and it was asking for more of Robert Robinson and his Twin Cities Community Gospel Choir.

"We had a lot of comments in the lobby following the show and calls saying how fantastic the concert was," says Betty Allen, director of UND's Chester Fritz Auditorium.

It's true! Sometimes, all we have to do is ask, and we receive.

Just as thrilled as anybody is Robert himself because March 31, he'll be back with 20 voices he refers to as the "workhorses" from the 100-member gospel choir he directs in the Twin Cities.


"It's a blessing," Robert says. "We're very excited to be able to do this again. It affirms the fact that people everywhere are hungry for positive music that reaches the soul of the person."

This time, there's an added bonus for folks who love to sing, like me.

From 2 to 4 p.m. that Saturday afternoon, Robert will conduct a music workshop for 75 local people. I guess I was the first one to sign up, and I'm told the workshop is now full.

When I spoke with Robert by phone, I found out there will be an honor bestowed on those who attend the workshop.

"Participants are welcome to come on stage and join us that night during the concert," he says. "We'll have a couple of hours together in the afternoon. We'll teach some of the different genres of gospel and contemporary gospel music, and we'll talk about the history behind the music. It will be a great experience for those people who always have wondered about it."

I wondered if we have to practice our "do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti dos" ahead of time?

"Oh, no, Robert says. "Just bring your voices and a good attitude, and we'll take care of the rest."

The Chester Fritz stage is not new to Robert. For several years, he enjoyed traveling and singing with Lorie Line and her Pop Chamber Orchestra.


"I resigned from that in 2006," Robert says, "and I did my own holiday show last year. I took a pretty large group, 40 or 50 vocalists and a 14-piece orchestra with strings and horns and rhythm section. I'm hoping I can come to the Grand Forks area with my holiday show this year."

Robert does about 150 shows a year with his personal performing and with what he does with the gospel choir.

"Things are pretty nutty," he says, "but I'm having a good time and learning a lot. How can that be wrong?"

Born and raised in Minneapolis, Robert, 46, has been a member of the Church of God in Christ all his life. Word of his work with church choirs and word of his amazing singing voice spread and in February 1990, people from the Minneapolis Community and Technical College contacted him.

"They called me to do music for their Black History Month program," Robert says. "I went and did my little songs."

After class, he collected his cassette tapes and started to leave. "The professor stopped me and said, 'I think there's a place for you at this school.'

"I laughed," Robert says. "I didn't think of myself as able to do anything on the college level. I told him I didn't have a degree in music. I don't read music. All I had done was in the realm of church choirs. They said, 'We think you are the guy for the job,' and I said, 'what job?' They wanted to start a community choir and insisted I was the guy."

Thirty-five people showed up for the first rehearsal and when the number reached 100. "We had to close registration because people were coming in such a huge number," Robert says. "It was a wonderful eye-opening experience for me, having only dealt with black singers and now dealing with all different kinds of backgrounds."


Today, members of the Twin Cities Community Gospel Choir include Christians, practicing Jews and people who do not identify with any faith at all "but have been so moved by the music and the message of the gospel," Robert says. "This has become a ministry. It has drawn people to God. It has been a fabulous

tool for me who desires to see God take this effort to glorify Him."

This music also seems to have affected people in our area. That's why "audience demand," according to Betty Allen, is what brings Robert and the gospel choir back to Grand Forks.

The March 31 concert is at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at the Fritz box office or call Ticketmaster at (701) 772-5151. Adults, $25 (main floor), $18 (mezzanine); students, $20 and $15; children 12 and younger, $20 and $10.

Robert hopes those who attended last year's concert will gather all their friends and come again.

"I invite those people who are struggling with life and those who could use a little more joy and peace," he says. "We have food for the soul for all those who think their soul needs something to eat. It's an opportunity for people to be inspired to live and enjoy life as God has given it to us."

Dunavan is a Herald columnist. Reach her at (218) 773-9521 or naomiinthespirit@aol.com .

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