Music Maker Introduces Discovery Artist Bob Stephens
inNewson June 21, 2017
Bob Stephens is a “road warrior.” Forty-eight years of performing and countless miles on the road are what separates Bob from what he and fellow touring musicians call the rest of us: “civilians.” Bob’s first trip on the road was with the world famous gospel troubadours, The Mighty Clouds of Joy at age 17. When the band’s bus broke down and money got tight, the band left him behind in Jacksonville, FL — unable to afford to fly him out to the next gig. Alone in an unfamiliar city, with no one and nowhere to go, Bob joined up with an itinerant preacher and roots healer, playing piano at tent revivals across the South. Bob eventually decided to head home. Sensing that he was ready to leave, the healer stopped paying Bob, not wanting the talented young pianist and source of his crowds to leave his act.
Bob recalls these days on the road as being a rough time in his life, traveling alongside hustlers and religious men alike, sometimes they were one in the same. By age 19, Bob began touring with another internationally renowned gospel group, the Brooklyn All-Stars. The older members liked Bob’s playing, but they wanted something more. During a stay at the Biltmore Hotel in Durham, NC, a major waypoint and thoroughfare for African American musicians like James Brown and BB King, the band hooked Bob up for piano lessons with the legendary Fats Domino. The band bought the old veteran and his young apprentice a fifth of liquor and they practiced together during late nights and early mornings at the Biltmore.
Bob soon became a seasoned entertainer. In addition to playing and touring with the Brooklyn All-Stars, Lakeside, and the Mighty Clouds of Joy, most recently Bob has played with fellow Music Maker artist Reverend Thomas Rhyant. Bob currently lives in Shelby, NC. He was born in 1952 on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio where his father served during the Korean War. Bob’s family has had a long history with music. His grandfather was emcee for Mahalia Jackson. His father sang jazz, and his mother was minister of music at their church. Both of his parents were musically gifted, and Bob inherited those gifts. He has toured with Grammy award winner Shirley Caesar and played with Al Green at his church in Memphis, Tennessee. His talents on the keyboard have led him to play with the Charlotte Symphony, and he has twice entered the Mississippi Gospel Music Hall of Fame — both on the same night.
— Jed Finley