Bill Robinson
1944 -   Class of 2006  Performing Arts
Bill Robinson, of St. Charles, Illinois, is a third generation hammered dulcimer player who was taught by both his father and his grandmother and has played for over forty years. Born in 1944 and named Roger W. Robinson, Bill joined family “jam sessions” at the age of six, and learned how to play several stringed instruments, including dobro, guitar, banjo, fiddle, and mandolin. When he was 19, his father had a stroke and experienced difficulty playing the dulcimer. This unfortunate situation prompted Bill to learn how to play this instrument as well.

Dulcimer players seldom become famous because this type of grassroots music does not receive mainstream media attention. Since popular players, such as Bill Robinson, rarely become widely known, his achievements are particularly significant. Most importantly, his contributions to this obscure art form have led to a resurgence of interest from musicians and fans across the country.

The unique 88-string hammered dulcimer originated in Persia several thousands years ago. Its name is derived from Latin and Greek words meaning “sweet sound.” Harpsichords and pianos are modern-day instruments that were inspired by the dulcimer construction. A century ago, its popularity as a parlor instrument was eclipsed by the piano and it almost became a lost art.

One of Bill’s most significant contributions to the art and heritage of dulcimer music is the resurrection of the all-but-forgotten regional right-bridge tuning method handed down through his family, now known and documented in published texts as “Robinson Tuning.”

He has some twenty recordings, has built over 140 instruments (using the corset stays that were his grandmother’s tradition), and has taught over 300 students, individually and through workshops. Ironically, Bill does not read music. Learning the hammered dulcimer is often accomplished through the “aural tradition” (by ear) or by one artist teaching another. Bill plays all instruments by ear and has learned most every instrument he has tried.

Bill is an old-timer in the business with respect to his accomplishments in country and bluegrass music. He was the subject of a WTTW-Channel 11 “Arts in Illinois” program, has been the featured artist in the national magazine Dulcimer Players News, and has been honored five times as a Master Artist with numerous teaching grants from the Illinois Arts Council. He is one of the noted artists featured in the book The Hammered Dulcimer: A History by Paul M. Gifford.

Bill’s original music, “Festival Rag,” was featured at the 2005 Evart Michigan Festival. His music is featured on a video produced by the State of Montana Tourism Board. He has twice been nominated for the Arts National Heritage Award of the National Endowment for the Arts.

As a young adult, Bill played with a house band at the Illinois Country Opry in New Salem. From 1968 to 1972, he played for radio and TV shows in Nashville. He was mentored by Roy Acuff, appeared with him at Opryland, and formed close relationships with other country and bluegrass music legends, opening for such acts as Dolly Parton, Don Bigson, and Charles Walker. He performed with the Illinois Country Opry in Macomb for twenty-five years. Bill actually built a dulcimer for Roy Acuff, and one of his instruments is on display today at the Roy Acuff Museum.

Bill Robinson has won many awards sponsored by the Country Music Association International for his instrumental achievements. The Illinois Country Music Association (ICMA) presented him with several Bluegrass Band of the Year Awards. In addition, the ICMA designated Bill as a Pioneer in 2004, citing his more than twenty-five years of support and promotion of country music.

Bill is a regular performer at the annual Fox Valley Folk Festival held in Geneva, the same city where the “Arts in Illinois” segment was filmed. His song and CD entitled “Strollin’ by the Fox” are dedicated to this area. In addition to Illinois and Tennessee, Bill has performed at festivals in Texas, Missouri, Colorado, Montana, Michigan, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia.

In her nomination of Bill Robinson for the Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame, Sherri Farley stated, “I became Bill’s first apprentice under the Master-Apprentice program…with Bill’s encouragement I have gone on to make recordings, give performances…and travel…sharing the history, tuning style, and music. Throughout, Bill has continued to be a mentor and source of inspiration and I have met countless others who also share stories of Bill’s influence and support. He is considered to be one of the most uniquely talented and highly regarded artists in this field.”

When he discovered he had an allergy to the wood and finishes he was using when constructing dulcimers, he took on a partner, Ken Harris, who now does the wood construction with Bill adding the hardware and strings. His future is certain – he will continue performing, recording, teaching, and building dulcimers. Luckily, Bill’s daughter, Monica, who received a dulcimer Bill made for her on her 17th birthday, also is carrying on the family tradition.
Visit Bill Robinson’s website at:
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 Third generation hammered dulcimer player  Twenty+ recor