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The Roberta Martin Singers
*Roberta Martin was born on this date in 1907. She was a Black gospel singer, pianist, composer, and publisher.
From Helena, AR, she was one of six children born to William and Anna Winston. At six, young Martin took piano lessons from her brother’s wife. When she was eight, the family moved to Cairo, Illinois, and then to Chicago. This talented pianist started a quartet with Theodore Frye in the '30s. In 1933, after hearing the Bertha Wise Singers of Georgia, she adopted the Wise gospel piano style.
With the help of Frye, she organized a group of male singers, first called the Martin-Frye Singers. In 1935, she severed her relationship with Frye and renamed the Roberta Martin Singers group. By the '40s, she added female singers Delois Barrett Campbell and Bessie Folk. Around this time, Martin opened her publishing firm, with its first success as “He Knows How Much We Can Bear” by Phyllis Hall. Martin composed her first selection, “Try Jesus; He Satisfies,” in 1943.
Martin's singers sang loudly and dramatically. She also wasn't concerned about a harmonious sound; when one group member was leading a song, male or female, you could easily identify the backing voices. This lack of synchronicity made the group’s urgent sound a unique and welcome change amid the repetitive quartets of the time. Robert Anderson was one of Martin's principal singers. She herself was referred to as The Helen Hayes of the Gospel World. Before her death, she had composed over 100 songs under her name and that of Fay Brown.
The Roberta Martin Singers carried the gospel message worldwide for over thirty-five years. Robert Martin died on January 18, 1969.