Gil Robbins: Musician in the vanguard of the 1960s American folk revival

Gil Robbins, who played and sang with the Cumberland Three, the Belafonte Singers and the Highwaymen, belongs to a side-strand in the American folk music movement that includes the Brothers Four, The Kingston Trio and the Journeymen. Despite theirs being music that shaped a generation's appreciation and consciousness of US folk music in the civil rights era, it has come down as "collegiate folk", square and uncool – as celebrated and spoofed by the never-were Folksmen and New Main Street Singers in the mockumentary A Mighty Wind (2003).

Born in 1931, Gil Robbins grew up in Los Angeles, the family having moved there when he was a baby. He took up music seriously at high school, playing percussion with the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra before joining UCLA's marching band. After dropping out he enlisted in the USAF in 1951, his national service included playing band music and conducting.

Before joining the Highwaymen in 1962 he was with the Cumberland Three, best remembered for their Rebel and Union Civil War repertoire. A "manufactured" folk trio, they also included John Montgomery and John Stewart, the singer-guitarist who went on to perform in the Kingston Trio and write the Monkees' hit "Daydream Believer". Robbins went on to perform with the Belafonte Singers – Harry Belafonte's big band – and accompany the folk singer Tom Paxton.

Robbins joined the Highwaymen as bassist and baritone vocalist. They had already scored an international hit with "Michael", an adaptation of "Michael, Row The Boat Ashore", in 1961. Impressively for the time, he also played the unfretted, plucked, six-stringed guitarrón. More accurately, guitarró* mexicano ("Mexican large guitar"), it is associated with Mexico's folk and mariachi music, though it later figured in the sound of the Scots folk-pop band Fairground Attraction. After Robbins left to manage the Greenwich Village folk haunt, the Gaslight, the band enjoyed several revivals, including opening for the next Highwaymen – Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson – as compensation for stealing their name.

Robbins made cameo appearances in several films with family connections including the political satire Bob Roberts (1992), which featured a folk-singing, right-wing Senate candidate, Dead Man Walking (1995) and Cradle Will Rock (1999); these films also featured his daughter Adele. His son David became a composer with credits for, among others, Dead Man Walking, Cradle Will Rock and King of California (2007), while his actor, director and musician son Tim acted in films including Bull Durham (1988), The Player (1992), The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and Mystic River (2003).

Ken Hunt

Gilbert Lee Robbins, musician, singer and actor: born Spokane, Washington 3 April 1931; married 1952Mary Bledsoe (two sons, two daughters); died Esteban Cantú, Mexico 5 April 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
peopleHere's what Stephen Fry would say
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Proust as Captain Laure Berthaud in 'Spiral'
tvReview: Gritty, engaging and well-acted - it’s a wonder France’s biggest TV export isn’t broadcast on a more mainstream channel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Laura Carmichael in still from Madam Bovary trailer
film
News
i100
Sport
Serena Williams holds the Australian Open title
sportAustralia Open 2015 final report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links