Maggi May Robinson


As published in the October/November 2003 issue of Stylus Magazine
(University of Winnipeg Students Association)

- By John Iverson

Born in Winnipeg to Jamaican parents, blues singer Maggi May Robinson was a young runaway living in Montreal in 1973 when she witnessed the blues hit the mainstream in the manifestation of ZZ Top. Already fond of the blues, this event would quickly steer Maggi into the music business, a course from which she would stray but would inevitably return to. In due course Maggi would land back in Winnipeg, and as love led to marriage and a family, she would pursue and attain a degree in Public Administration from the University of Manitoba. But the blues would beckon, and Maggi would answer the plea in fronting the band Blues-O-Matics. At the time she was the only female vintage blues singer in Winnipeg, and she likened the experience to "starring in a Betty Boop cartoon… ". And it was during her tenure with the Blues-O-Matics that the so-called 'Ackroyd incident' transpired. 'Blues Brother' Dan Ackroyd stopped by the Windsor Hotel while in town filming 'The Arrow' to hear the band perform. He subsequently returned the next day to jam with them on his harmonica. This encounter roused Maggi's passion for the blues like never before. She vividly recalls the event this way: "I'm three feet off the ground just thinking about it. My impression of him - very spiritual."

So Maggi began studying piano again, and a year later in 1997 she formed her own band, Maggi May & Co., with her piano incorporated into the lineup. And over the years this band has evolved. Maggi describes this progression thusly: "Maggi May & Co. has changed dramatically a few times. Each lineup was highly charged with chemistry. In the past I worked extensively with Dave Wood, Annis Kozub, Joanna Miller, Todd Kehler, Eli Herscovitch, Andy Carlson and Greg Purnell. They remain my favorite people. Now I have a whole other inimitable group including bassist Nenad Zdjelar (Keza), guitarist/singer Terry Barnett, drummer Randy Joyce and saxophonist David Hasselfield. I know I'm doing my best work so far and it's largely because of their patience, support and humor." In the process she has customized her own unique repertoire, "mixing early ragtime and blues styles with highly charged swing and R&B material".

But despite a successful music career Maggi has not given up her administrative job either. I asked her how she manages to balance what are essentially two careers: "Constant struggle. However, with the quality of musicians I am now working with, delegating musical responsibility is increasingly possible and increasingly attractive. I am a firm believer in collaboration and my plan is to do more of it in the near future. It certainly won't be retirement but it will take some of the pressure off the musical side of the equation."

Ah, the sweet taste of success in the music business. But just how difficult was it for a female singer to be successful here in Winnipeg, especially compared to a male singer? Maggi had these thoughts: "There is a universal 'reputation' that comes with being a female singer. Something like: 'if you're doing well, you must be doing something nefarious'. I'm not sure guys get that. Also, singers in general who don't also play an instrument may be at a disadvantage in this market, unless of course you can sing like Marcie Campbell. In my experience, renewing my piano skills broadened my horizons significantly."

And what about Maggi May the person? Well, she obviously has a passion for music, something that is quite apparent while experiencing one of her performances. Additionally, Maggi is a classically trained pianist, so I asked her if there was ever a desire to be a classical musician or anything like that. Her response: "Yes. Apparently I was gifted and I think at my peak - when I was 11 or 12 - my teacher had high hopes for me." The composers she mentioned who had the biggest influence on her included Mozart, Chopin and J.S. Bach. But as far as her music career is concerned, she cites Peggy Lee, the Warner Brothers, Duke Ellington and her dad as having the biggest impact on her personally.

And outside of the realm of performing, Maggi enjoys the following activities: "Numerology, yoga, and tarot are long-standing hobbies of mine. I am also a writer, though I haven't been published recently. I like writing enough to be working on a book of my own. It concerns the occult. Aside from all that, I love listening to Duke and early Nat Cole when he played piano. I love going out for chocolate cake. And sleeping. Sleeping is great."

So whether appearing as part of a jazz duo or swing quintet, Maggi's lush, elegant style has made her a regular fixture in the casinos and night clubs of Winnipeg. She has proven to be a popular draw at the Jazz Winnipeg Festival and the Osborne Village Canada Day Festival too.

Maggi's latest release, 'It Hurts Me Too', is a tribute to the black American songwriters of the first half of the twentieth century. These songwriters have been a great source of inspiration for her, and she states that "the songs are powerful, and they are fun. We smiled all the way through the recording session." One listen to this disc and that becomes rather obvious.

Maggi May Robinson - It Hurts Me Too

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