Key West’s King of Soul

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Robert Albury    “Key West’s King of Soul”

A trio of Soul – Clayton Lopez, Robert Albury, Cliff Sawyer at the Third Fats Navarro Celebration 2013.

Robert Albury, a homegrown Key West talent, grew up on the corner of Amelia and Whitehead Streets in Bahama Village, enjoying his older brother George’s singing. George toured with B.B. King for a short time before returning to Key West. Another brother, William, was a great singer but never went professional. In fact, Robert had nine brothers and they all sang.

He grew up behind a nightclub (now the Elks Lodge) on Whitehead Street which had an open-air stage located behind the club where the musicians performed. He remembers big name acts performing there in the 1950’s including the legendary Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, and Les Brown.  Robert would climb out on the roof of his home to listen to them.

Celebrating Robert 70th Birthday on the Sunset Pier.

Young Robert was most inspired by Louis Armstrong’s performance. The ‘budding entrepreneur’ would charge his buddies twenty-five cents to get out on the roof with him and listen to the musicians.

Robert and his wife sharing Birthday cake.

The Albury family was not always a blues and soul music family. The great Key West percussionist Buddy Chavez credits Robert’s father, Philip Albury, with his conga skills. Philip taught most of Key West’s Cuban conga players how to play percussion. He spoke more Spanish than English and had his own Latin band while Robert was growing up.

Robert Albury and fellow conch Paulie Walterson were members of the same high school band, The Wanderers, with Willis T. Hagan and Gary Moore. Robert’s first big gig in Key West was at the Navy NCCS Club on Whitehead Street. Robert was also a member of Soul Party with Marty Stonely.

Robert’s wife’s stepfather, promoter Curtis Brown, brought singers to Key West to perform at the Strand Theater on Duval Street (now Walgreen’s). He booked Otis Redding, Billy Ocean, and the immortal James Brown. A local singer, Willis T. Hagan, sang with James Brown on stage and was offered a chance to tour with him. James Brown returned to Key West several times, influencing Robert’s love of soul music.

Robert says the vocals drive Soul Music

Amazing actor and former Keys TV personality Tom Luna tells a story of how many years ago he and Robert would get off work about the same time early in the morning – after Robert finished cleaning Sloppy Joe’s Bar and Tom finished a late-night bartending gig. They would bicycle together down a deserted Duval Street at 5:00am, singing soul music. Tom remembers the joy coming from this, then unknown, man who thought he was alone. Hearing that amazing voice was like a secret and Tom was the only witness. Tom followed behind him singing harmonies to Robert’s lead. Luna would sing backup to the now famous King of Soul. One morning when they got to their Upper Duval Street point, turning separate ways, Robert turned and smiled. It was a wonderful Key West memory that Tom still cherishes.

Albury says that with soul music, the vocals drive the music from within. The music doesn’t drive the vocals and, to Robert, the vocals come from deep down within a special place in your heart. He says, “That’s what makes soul music so great.”

One of Roberts favorite venues is the Little Room Jazz Club.

Fritz Sigler and Robert Albury have been performing together since the early 90s. Fritz is a really good sound engineer and records all the tracks used for their gigs. Robert and Fritz have been performing at the Sunset Pier for twenty-one years. Robert also worked and performed at Sloppy Joe’s for twenty-two years. Robert says one of his favorite places to perform today is The Little Room Jazz Club. The first time I heard Robert Albury sing, he was riding his bike down Front Street on his way to sit in with his good friend George Victory at Island Dogs. They were phenomenal.

The great jazz and blues guitarist Larry Baeder compares Albury to the Soul greats, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, and Otis Redding. He feels if Robert had left Key West that he would have been a major presence in the music world. Larry describes Robert as “a beautiful and humble human being.”

If there is one regret for Robert, it was not learning an instrument. His father and brothers all played instruments. His idol, the great James Brown, could play every instrument in his band. Robert feels this gave Brown the gravitas to question, and sometimes correct, the musicians.

According to Robert, “I love everybody in the world, but you have to be hard on yourself, to bring out the best to please yourself.” He says the secret is not to try too hard to sing like someone else. Robert Albury sings because he has to. He feels he has a gift that he has to share. He leaves everything on stage.

Robert will be 80 years old this August 1st, a celebration is planned for this timeless wonder, stay tuned.


When Robert gives you this look, you’ve either just had a great solo or your dancing has improved.


One Comment

  • Joe Richmond says:

    So the first time I saw Robert was at the Green Parrot. My wife was off getting a massage and I was passing time at the bar. Headed off to the mens room and after a minute some guy wanders in and he’s singing. It would have seemed weird but he was so damn good I couldn’t help but say “hey man I hope you’re with the band!”. He just laughed and went about his business and then about 10 minutes later he hops up on stage and I witness the hardest singing person I have ever seen! Completely blew me away, what an amazing talent!

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