You’ve seen actor Keith Robinson all over the big and small screens; with notable credits that include Get On Up and the award-winning Dreamgirls, he has maintained a fluid entertainment career for many years.
As an entertainer, Robinson is also an extremely accomplished and gifted singer and songwriter who has contributed to several soundtracks and recorded albums, not to mention singing the original Oscar-nominated song “Patience” from Dreamgirls as part of an ensemble at the 79th Academy Awards.
Robinson spoke with SoulTrain.com about balancing a successful acting and singing career, his new music (set for release early next year), and his new show, Saints and Sinners.
Keith Robinson: I think they’re equally fulfilling. One can be more difficult than the other at times, but I love to do both. They’re both similar energies.
SoulTrain.com: It’s been almost 10 years since Dreamgirls; in the film, you sang the Academy Award-nominated song “Patience” and also performed it live at the Academy Awards. In what ways did that experience impact your career?
Keith Robinson: More than anything it validated my career. As an artist, coming up as a kid you have dreams to step out and do what you see on TV and mimic what you hear on the radio, so I had a hunch I could do it. I think when I got a chance to step on that Oscar stage with so much great talent around me and be considered in the number, it was just really validating for me that I had made the right choice to step out on my hunch.
SoulTrain.com: Your fan base is comprised of those who are familiar with you from your acting world but then there are those who know you for your music. Is bringing those two audiences together a challenge for you?
Keith Robinson: It’s definitely a challenge but I think it’s about creating the awareness; like you said, whenever I step on a stage, half of the crowd knows I can sing and the other half is in shock. I take it all in stride. It’s kind of fun re-inventing myself, fan by fan so to speak. I guess that’s the biggest challenge and the irony of my career—re-introducing myself because people always ask me when I started singing and my answer is always, “When did you start listening? Because I’ve been singing.”
SoulTrain.com: While recognition from your from film and television roles is certainly helpful in that it broadens exposure to your music, is it a hindrance in any way, perhaps, where people make assumptions before they even hear it?
Keith Robinson: I’m used to the assumptions. I think that comes with the territory. I always say that just because you can ride a bike doesn’t mean you can juggle. You’ve got to prove yourself and I’ve accepted that challenge. Part of the fun of it for me is showing that I’m a two-sport athlete. I’m truly an artist. I think every scene has a rhythm to it and every song has an element of drama—it’s just a matter of how you want to express yourself.
SoulTrain.com: “Love Somebody,” your latest single, is seemingly about a guy who’s really feelin’ a lady, but she might have a bit of a wall up—is that about right? Do you have a connection to this subject matter?
Keith Robinson: That’s pretty much it in a nutshell. I look at it as a “PSA” that talks about how we relate to one another now. We have so many images and signals being thrown at us because of social media and TV, and then the technology makes dating weird because the intimate connection is something we shy away from and a lot of times, we miss out on a good thing. So this is just a personal plea to open up and not let outside influences hinder something magical that may happen, and to really experience love the way it’s supposed to be experienced. Every song I write has an element of me or someone close to me in it.
SoulTrain.com: The single is from your forthcoming full-length project, Love Episodic. What will set this apart from your previous music?
Keith Robinson: The album is the anatomy of a relationship—“episodic” is a play on my TV career in episodic television, where you have a start, a climax and an ending. I think the album has that in that it’s one body of work that takes you on a journey of “boy meets girl,” they hit it off, they fall in love, they fight, they argue, they make up, and it then kind of takes you around the world in ten songs. I think every album I write has a subplot and a story line. I like to create volumes of life and love and this is one of them.
SoulTrain.com: You have a duet with Erica Campbell of the group Mary Mary. Tell us about this collaboration.
Keith Robinson: It’s for a new show, Saints and Sinners, and we’re on the third episode. I’m excited about it. It kind of has the same dynamic as Empire but it takes place in a church. I play a former chart-topping R&B star who is now a choir director trying to find his way back. In the midst of it all, a lot of great music is born out of this church. When I signed on to do this project, I didn’t realize how much the music element would play into it. The duet I did with Erica Campbell is called “Keep Holding On,” and it was produced by Polow da Don and written by Johnta Austin. I did another song on the soundtrack with Johnta and Troy Taylor called “Pain.” The soundtrack will tentatively be out in February or March and it features me, Monica, Kelly Price, Deitrick Haddon, Jeezy, Lecrae, Rick Ross, and Big Boi from Outkast.
SoulTrain.com: What do you want listeners to take away from the Love Episodic experience?
Keith Robinson: I know it sounds like a cliché but I want people to buy back into love and the love movement and the power of real music, real vocals, real storylines, and heartfelt emotions. I think we’ve gotten away from that in R&B music; it’s become saturated with [messages like] “cut to the chase and let’s get naked.” I want to take it back to the sentiment of the old R&B greats and real songwriters and real music. The album is, as I call it, “old school sentiment packaged in a millennium feel.” I’m a descendant of those old R&B greats and I’m passing the torch and trying to rekindle it and keep it alive.
SoulTrain.com: As an entertainer, what do Soul Train and Don Cornelius’ legacy mean to you?
Keith Robinson: Soul Train means everything to me; it’s getting up on Saturday mornings in my PJs and seeing the tall, light-skinned dude, you know, the one who was real cool with New Edition! I even watched a clip the other day when Michael Jackson sang “Push Me Away” right after he shot The Wiz. I was raised on Soul Train; it inspired me to want to jump through the TV and just be a part of the movement. And without Soul Train, there is no Keith Robinson “the artist,” so shout out to Soul Train and Mr. Cornelius! The show was big—and it’s still necessary.
For more information and updates on Keith Robinson, please visit his website.
LaShawn Williams is a freelance writer and editor from Chicago, Illinois. She is an arts and entertainment enthusiast who has a serious thing for stand-up comedy, music and dance. Follow her on Twitter: @MsWilliamsWorld.