A Life Well Lived and Full of Love, Peace, Joy & Happiness!
Bobby Barnes hailed from Detroit, the “Motor City,” and the music mecca known as “Motown.” As a young man growing up, Detroit was a haven for some of the world’s most outstanding Jazz musicians affording Bobby the opportunity and good fortune to play with, and learn from the very best.
Bobby began his illustrious music career in 1946 after meeting and hearing tenor sax legend Illinois Jacquet rehearsing at a friend’s home down the street from where he lived. So inspired by Mr. Jacquet, Bobby began playing the Clarinet in school. Playing the Clarinet eventually led him to master many of the woodwind instruments, such as the soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, in addition to the flute and piccolo.
Bobby was a quick and very motivated learner, at 17 years of age Bobby formed his own band, whose original members now reads like a “Who’s Who” in Jazz. As luck would have it, Bobby was a neighbor with piano virtuoso Sir Roland Hanna, who would sneak in Bobby’s window to play the piano, and would later go on to conduct the orchestra for Ella Fitzgerald, and play with Benny Goodman, Thad Jones & Mel Lewis. Bobby happened to be schoolmates with Grammy Award winning trumpeter Donald Byrd, who soon became part of his band and played on Bobby’s first record, Bobbin at Barbies. If those two Jazz legends weren’t enough, his ensemble also included Gene Taylor, former bassist with Horace Silver; alto saxophonist Sonny Red, who became a featured player with Donald Byrd, Kenny Dorham, Barry Harris and Yusef Lateef; trombonist Claude Black; along with two well known local musicians, Charles King and Gene Brown on drums. Subsequently, Bobby’s band included keyboard and organist extraordinaire Ronnie Foster, who later worked with greats like George Benson, Grover Washington, Jr., Stanley Clarke, The Jackson 5 and Stevie Wonder.
In 1951 Bobby was drafted into the United States Army and after basic training he auditioned and was accepted into the U.S. Army Band stationed in Berlin, Germany. In Berlin Bobby was able to further his musical training with members of the German Symphony Orchestra, at the time, considered by many to be the best musicians in the world.
Bobby always understood that music was not just about playing your instrument, but was more about constant training to get better. After Bobby was honorably discharged from the military, he went on to train and perform with some of the best that Jazz had to offer. Bobby studied with two of the most acclaimed woodwind Jazz musicians in the business; Yusef Lateef, who played with Charles Mingus, Donald Byrd, and Cannonball Adderley; and Joe Henderson, who played with Jack McDuff, Kenny Dorham, Horace Silver, and Herbie Hancock.
Bobby has also graced the stage with the likes of trombonist Curtis Fuller; (Dizzy Gillespie, Cannonball Adderley, Benny Golson, Art Farmer, Art Blakey), guitarist Kenny Burrell; (Quincy Jones, John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Jimmy Smith, Aretha Franklin, Dinah Washington, Lena Horne, and is a professor and Director of Jazz Studies at the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music), bassist Paul Chambers; (Miles Davis, John Coltrane, J.J. Johnson-Kai Winding, Bud Powell, Freddie Hubbard), pianist, soprano saxophonist, composer and arranger, Dr. Teddy Harris, Jr.; (band director, The Supremes, The Temptations and Jazz Master and Cultural Ambassador for President Bill Clinton’s Administration), bassist Doug Watkins; (James Moody, Lee Morgan, Horace Silver, Jackie McLean, Charles Mingus), and pianist Barry Harris; (Dexter Gordon, Illinois Jacquet, Yusef Lateef, Hank Mobley, Coleman Hawkins) to name just a few.
Though Bobby was an extremely well-trained musician, he was a natural-born phenomenally gifted teacher; and it wasn’t long before he began developing his own unique techniques. Bobby had a special ability that allowed him to touch the hearts and inspire a generation of young musicians. Bobby was extremely influential in the lives of so many of today’s very accomplished musicians. One of his first students was his nephew, saxophonist Allan Barnes, who was an original member of the world-renowned, Blackbyrds, and also played with Donald Byrd, Pharaoh Sanders, Nina Simone, Gil Scott-Herron and Sun-Ra. Bobby often shared his musical knowledge with the amazing saxophonist Bennie Maupin, who graced the stages with Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Roy Haynes, Horace Silver, and McCoy Tyner. Bennie once said, he woke up in a hotel room to realize and finally understand some of the things that Bobby was trying to teach him 12 years prior.
It was then-teenage Detroiter’s like guitar virtuoso and recording artist Earl Klugh, who played with greats like Yusef Lateef and George Benson, and guitarist, recording artist, songwriter, and producer Ray Parker, Jr. that Bobby encouraged to join him on stage at famous venues all around Detroit so that he could teach and share with them invaluable music lessons and experience that he knew they would need. Ricky Lawson, drummer, and bandleader for the likes of Michael Jackson, The Jackson’s, George Duke, Whitney Houston, The Yellow Jackets, and Roy Ayers practiced in Bobby’s garage as his son Ray, and best friend Victor Hall were making their attempts to follow Bobby’s lead in music. Victor, at about12 years-of-age, was already becoming a good Pianist, became Bobby’s test pilot for his innovative musical theories. Those private sessions gave Victor a musical foundation that helped him to become a great pianist, arranger, producer and conductor for legendary artists like Gladys Knight and the Pips, Marvin Gaye, Frankie Valle of the Four Seasons, and the Ridgeway Sisters, whose song “I Don’t Know What I’d Do If You Ever Left Me,” written and produced by Ray and Victor, was #1 at the famed Studio 54 Disco and was the song Dick Clark played when the ball dropped on his News Years Rockin’ Eve show of 1979. The Ridgeways also sang for years with Aretha Franklin and Anita Baker. Furthermore, Victor wrote arrangements and conducted orchestras for TV shows like the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Muppets Show, American Idol, and too many others to mention here.
Bassist, recording artist and producer, Byron Miller, another member of Ray and Victor’s original band, moved to Los Angeles and added the bottom for George Duke, Earth Wind and Fire, Luther Vandross, Roy Ayers and many more, learned invaluable lessons from Bobby while the two often played “the musical dozens” on stage for fun when they performed together.
Bobby shared his music proclivities with both his sons. His youngest son LaSalle Barnes, Sr., was an accomplished bass player and writer, while his eldest son, R. Ray Barnes, choose to focus on the business of music, production, and songwriting. Ray moved to Los Angeles in 1980 and shortly thereafter joined forces with three-time Grammy Award Winning songwriter, producer, arranger, and conductor Tony Coleman who worked with Quincy Jones, James Ingram, James Cleveland, Aretha Franklin, Stanley Turrentine, Anita Baker, Patrice Rushen, and more. Ray and Tony have remained music production partners continuously for 36 years and together they have written and produced artists the likes of Lakeside, Shalimar, Lee Greenwood, Rita Coolidge, The Emotions, The Pointer Sisters, Kathy Sledge, the Main Ingredient, movie themes and commercials too many to mention. Bobby and Yvonne warmly accepted Tony as another son. Ray and Tony wrote, arranged, and produced one of Bobby’s last recordings, titled in his honor, Uncle Bobby, featuring Allan Barnes on Soprano sax and Bobby on Tenor.
“Everything is beautiful” is how Bobby responded when asked, “How are you?” That was Bobby’s philosophy, and it showed in every aspect of his life. Bobby lived his life realizing that, “That there is beauty in everything, but may not be seen by everyone.” Residing in Las Vegas, Nevada, since 2004, Bobby was recently the Director of Music at the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, and just prior to his untimely passing, he was a music instructor at the Sam Ash Music Store. Bobby’s life was surrounded by music! Though he taught many young musicians who went on to work with, and themselves became some of the most recognized artists, musicians, arrangers and conductors in the business, Bobby had many more students who just loved to play and learn music just for the love of it; and he was more than obliged to teach them as well.
Bobby would say, “Just think about it; there is almost no place in your life where music is not. It’s a 100% natural mood-altering experience. It’s exciting, it’s calming, it’s soothing, and it’s relaxing. You awaken to the music on your alarm clock, you listen to music throughout the day on the radio, on TV, and in the movies, then you use music to relax you and put you to sleep at night. Music is so much a part of the fabric of our lives we don’t even notice it—it’s like our second skin.”
Bobby would also say, “We can make a part of our kid’s life better by making music a better part of our kid’s life.”
Bobby was known to pass out instruments for free and give music lessons mostly for no charge to almost anyone who wanted to learn. However, the unique thing is, Bobby’s greatest gift wasn’t just that of a musician and music teacher; he was a teacher of life! Bobby, a tenacious reader, he would often gather young folks at his home to share philosophical thoughts and books with them. As attested by prominent Detroit area attorney’s Cyril Hall and Bertram Johnson, who recall how they would often join Bobby at his home when they were just teenagers as he would teach and share with them some of life’s greatest lessons. Both have proudly stated that their times spent with Bobby were invaluable in providing them with the knowledge and solid foundation that prepared them to become successful attorneys. They now say the lessons, books, and knowledge they learned from Bobby they proudly share and pass along to their children and friends.