New York City, Puerto Rico and the folklore/ethnomusicology world lost a major beat when Roberta (Bobbi) Singer died on June 12, 2022, at Portsmouth Regional Hospital in New Hampshire. Bobbi was a major mentor for many folklorists/ethnomusicologists and for musicians in New York City, and a relentless voice and presenter of Puerto Rican, Cuban and Caribbean Culture. Her passion for Puerto Rican music and its roots and sharing it all with the world at large contributed greatly to the fields of folklore and ethnomusicology.
Bobbi studied the flute and later the saxophone and cello and entered the Manhattan School of Music on a scholarship, then transferred to Hunter College where she received her Bachelor of Science in Music Education. A few years later she got her master’s degree in ethnomusicology also at Hunter, and later, her PhD in ethnomusicology at Indiana University in 1982. Her dissertation was aptly titled, “My Music Is Who I Am and What I Do: Latin Popular Music and Identity in New York City.” Her research included interviews with some of salsa and Latin jazz’s cutting-edge Nuyorican musicians on the scene at that time, chronicling the dynamic Latino and cultural scene on the Lower East Side in the 1970s.
This passion for Latin music in New York City led Roberta to create pivotal groundbreaking programs and projects featuring these traditional genres. Along with Rene Lopez, she helped produce the album Caliente Equals Hot in 1977, which featured an array of local Puerto Rican and Cuban musical styles. This was the first time that anyone had collected various types of Latin music genres in this type of showcase, showing off the community’s music in “’all its grandeur” as stated by musician Bobby Sanabria.
Bobbi organized the 1983 concert, Music from the Islands: Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Manhattan, which marked one of the first performances of the iconic bomba and plena group, Los Pleneros de la 21. In 1986, she became one of City Lore’s first staff members, organizing a music festival in and around the Central Park bandshell.
This passion for Latin music in New York City led Roberta to create pivotal groundbreaking programs and projects featuring these traditional genres, including her first tour, first tour Somos Boricuas (We are Puerto Ricans) which was designed to create an exchange between Puerto Ricans on the island and in the Diaspora. Another big project of hers was the legendary Dos Alas/Two Wings Project which highlighted the cultural and historical ties between Cuba and Puerto Rico by presenting a program of Afro-Cuban rumba and Afro-Puerto Rican bomba.
Roberta’s legacy for Puerto Rican music lives on as she was one of the founders of the Bomplenazo, a festival featuring the music of the Puerto Rican genres of bomba and plena at the Hostos Center for the Arts & Culture in the Bronx. She and her longtime programmatic collaborator, Wally Edgecombe, the Artistic Director of the Center, acquired grants to present the Bomplenazo which takes place every other year, since 2000. It brings together bomba musicians and dancers as well as pleneros from all across the Diaspora and from the Island for a 3 day showcase of the music and traditions and situates the Bronx as a center of that culture.
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