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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Carol O'Brien, whose son Rob suffered many years of depression
healthOne mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Rob Merrick's Lobby Journalists were playing Ed Balls' Labour Party MPs. The match is an annual event which takes place ahead of the opening of the party conference
newsRob Merrick insistes 'Ed will be hurting much more than me'
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Life and Style
Sexual health charities have campaigned for the kits to be regulated
healthAmerican woman who did tells parents there is 'nothing to be afraid of'
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
The John Peel Lecture has previously been given by Pete Townshend of The Who, Billy Bragg and Charlotte Church
musicGodfather of punk will speak on 'free music in a capitalist society'
peopleAt least it's for a worthwhile cause
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pharmaceutical Computer System Validation Specialist

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Pharmaceutical Computer ...

High Level Teaching Assistant (HTLA)

£70 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Higher Level Teaching Assist...

Teaching Assistant

£50 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Randstad Education is the UK...

Senior Java Developer - API's / Webservices - XML, XSLT

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments