Lynn Roberts performing at The Jazz Corner on Hilton Head Island. Darla Campbell Submitted
BY DAVID LAUDERDALE
The songbird now sings her song in heaven.
That simple obituary from Sauls Funeral Home in Bluffton cloaks the real story of Lynn Roberts.
She died on Jan. 21 in her “happy place,” her home in Sun City Hilton Head. She was 82, a victim of cancer, but to the end a high-heel-wearing survivor of America’s most elegant era of song.
On Hilton Head Island, we knew her as the pretty singer in her neighbor Bob Alberti’s trio when they sold out the Jazz Corner several times a year. Some recall her singing in Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra pops concerts.
For the past couple of years, Lynn jumped into the action with the rock-style praise team at Bluffton’s Lowcountry Community Church.
We can all be forgiven for not knowing there was an angel in our midst, because she never tried to tell us so.
But Lynn Roberts was “one of the super songbirds of all time,” says Alberti, a friend since childhood in New York City.
He said she was the only woman to sing with all the superstars of the Big Band era: Charlie Spivak, Vincent Lopez, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and Harry James.
She performed on Broadway and at the Paramount Theatre, the Coconut Grove, the Palladium, and the Cafe Rouge — starting as one of the boys on the bus at age 15. She toured the globe with Doc Severinsen and voiced one of the spoof “Androoze Sisters” on “Sesame Street.” She sang at President Ronald Reagan’s inaugural ball. And she was the sweet or sassy voice behind some of America’s great advertising jingles for “Mmm, mmm good” Campbell’s Soup, Chiquita bananas, Chantilly perfumes, Pan Am and Camel.
“She had a gift and she never took that gift or any fan for granted,” said her daughter, Darla Campbell of Bluffton. “She thought its purpose was to give joy to others.”
Lynn Roberts was born Leonore Theresa Raisig in Brooklyn and grew up in Queens. Her father played piano and encouraged her in show business, but her mother did not. She was performing on stage at age 8 and was on “The Horn and Hardart Children’s Hour” even earlier.
Alberti was 16 and a pianist with Charlie Spivak’s band when Roberts came aboard.
She immediately excelled as a “girl singer,” or what they called “a canary.”
“You had to have a very pleasing appearance,” Alberti said. “You had to have an ‘I’m with you’ attitude with the dancers enjoying the band.”
Lois Masteller at the Jazz Corner said those band directors were so demanding, you could get fired for breathing wrong.
And Lynn Roberts did get fired (and hired back), once for refusing Tommy Dorsey’s demand that she get rid of her ponytail.
She married the Spivak band’s lead trumpet player, Daryl “Flea” Campbell, when she was 19. He told a lot about that unusual life in his book, “Don’t Bury Me in a Tuxedo.” They had three children in a 17-year marriage that ended so amicably that, wherever Lynn went, Flea was nearby. When Lynn and her husband, Lewis Hankins, moved a block from the Albertis about a decade ago, Flea came as well and also lived in Bluffton. Lynn was at his side when he died three years ago.
Darla Campbell said her parents were an example of how adults should act.
“She would say over and over and over, ‘Be kind to one another. Be kind to everybody.’ ”
Darla feels that, if not for the children, her mother’s name would be as well known as contemporaries Rosemary Clooney, Peggy Lee, Helen O’Connell or Margaret Whiting.
Alberti says Lynn was every bit as good.
At 80, Lynn looked and sounded like she was 40.
“She had a pure, mellifluous voice,” Alberti said. “It was pure singing. You understood the lyrics. It was a pleasant sound. She was never a diva. In fact, she was the exact opposite of a diva.”
Masteller said Lynn commanded the room but did not inject herself into any of the thousands of lyrics she knew by heart.
Lynn’s final performance at the Jazz Corner came last May, and it included her son, Daryl Campbell, and her grandson, drummer Zachary Campbell.
She was a soloist in the “First Ladies of Song” performance with the Pasadena (Calif.) Symphony and POPS last June but was pretty sick in her last public song at her grandson’s wedding in September.
Her voice lives on through YouTube and a number of albums, including her last one recorded with Alberti, “Just Between Friends.”
A memorial service will be held at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at St. Gregory the Great Catholic Church in Bluffton. People will be coming from Las Vegas and New York.
“Lynn bridged us to such an elegant era, with its big music and ballroom dancing,” Masteller said. “It was a really classy, stylish time. You hate to see that era end.”
David Lauderdale: 843-706-8115, @ThatsLauderdale
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