in: News & Features

October 9, 2017

Robert Honeysucker: We Will Always Feel the Spirit

by

His father was a Tennessee preacher of deep conviction whom the young Robert expected to emulate. But he did it through his tender and thunderous singing with profound spirituality, making converts of us all.

Bob died suddenly last weekend after some three quarters of a century of total commitment to whatever he did.

“It’s my life’s work to express those emotions and feelings that can only be conveyed through music. It’s how my spirit takes wing and soars to unfathomable, seemingly unreachable heights. I hope that my music does the same for your spirit, too.”

Others add:

Singing with Bob is probably the closest I’ll ever get to having any sort of religion. There was no way to fake a note or an emotion around him.

It’s rare that a man has such great humanity and character that equals his possession of such great artistry. Bob was clearly that man.

A funeral service for Bob will take place at All Saints Parish, 1773 Beacon Street, Brookline, MA 02245, at 11 am on Saturday October 14th.

Some links to recordings from my personal store follow. If you are dry eyed after hearing them, don’t darken these pages again.

J.S. Bach Cantata Christ Lag in Todesbanden, bass aria “Hier ist das rechte Osterlamm” Emmanuel Music Orchestra and Chorus, Craig Smith conducting with Robert Honeysucker bass soloist, April 19, 1981 HERE

Assorted Spirituals in the last five years from Palm Sunday Services at St. Mary Church in Charlestown. HERE

His standard biography is HERE

37 Comments

  1. I first met Bob in a production of Nabucco many years ago, where I was a first-time union-house opera chorus singer, and he (in the title role) a rising star in opera houses and concert halls. He impressed me greatly as a man to emulate.

    Comment by Mark Bonito "Marco" — October 9, 2017 at 9:23 pm

  2. A funeral service for Bob will take place at All Saints Parish, 1773 Beacon Street, Brookline, MA 02245, at 11 am on Saturday October 14th. Bob was a treasured member of the choir there for decades and recently also a vestry member. It was a great privilege to make music with him there and to hear his memorable and moving delivery of a tremendously varied repertoire. My dearest memory is of him singing “Lord God of Abraham” from Mendelssohn’s Elijah, with the late Donald Teeters fervently accompanying. The prophet truly walked the earth again and we were all lifted to another plane. Everyone who knew him loved him and knew that he cared about them, from the smallest Cherub Choir child to the most senior congregant. Our hearts go out to Noriko. We have lost a great human being.

    Comment by Marylène Altieri — October 9, 2017 at 11:18 pm

  3. I was one of Bob’s studio pianists and occasional coaches for over nine years. He shared just as freely of his vast knowledge as he did of his voice, and he was held in the highest esteem by all of his current and former students. I never went home from a day of working with him not feeling that my contributions were valued and that I had been respected as an artist and a person. I taught with him the day before he was called home and we were both moved to tears by a student’s delivery of Boatner’s arrangement of “City Called Heaven.” None of us realized just how soon he was going to make it his home. He will be sorely missed, but he has also achieved a kind of immortality in the hundreds of lives that he touched.

    Comment by Thomas Dawkins — October 9, 2017 at 11:53 pm

  4. Robert Honeysucker and I have a long history of performing together. I first met at rehearsals in January 1982 with Sarah Caldwell’s Opera Company of Boston for the American premiere of Zimmerman’s Die Soldaten. I’m 1987, Barbara Segal organized a tour of the Middle East featuring highlights of Verdi’s Aida where I was engaged to sing Radames, and she asked if I knew of anyone for Amonasro, so I suggested Bob who sang splendidly. Later, with Michael Calmes’ Boston Aria Guild, we sang a good amount of concerts together. The testosterone-induced duets from Don Carlo and Pearl Fishers were our staple. He beautifully portrayed Falke during the annual offerings of Die Fledermaus where I sang Alfredo then Eisenstein). Bob asked me to join him in an opera gala with Cape Ann Symphony and in several Beethoven 9th Symphony performances, including one at Ithaca College (where we also gave a joint voice master class), and particularly with the folks of Nobeoka, Japan – here in their sister city of Medford MA and there (where we also performed an opera concert). Last concert together was the Eunice Alberts Memorial on November 24, 2013. Will miss my singing partner… Fare you well, my friend.

    Comment by Noel Espiritu Velasco — October 9, 2017 at 11:59 pm

  5. Of note is Bob’s sublime interpretation of William Grant Still’s Songs of Separation – https://youtu.be/YuMhrbWDo2Q

    Comment by Noel Espiritu Velasco — October 10, 2017 at 8:01 am

  6. I have known Robert for many years. We met first when we were performing with the Opera Company of Boston under the direction of Sarah Caldwell.
    Since then we often met or talked over the phone concerning some musical activity. The last time I saw him was the time a few years ago–when he performed in a program paying tribute to my father, the late reknowned concert artist Roland Hayes.The last time I spoke with him was two years ago when I was able to have my cousin, and my great nephew coach with him.
    His death was a complete shock to me and my family.
    We will miss not only his beautiful voice- but his beautiful spirit as well.
    Go in peace,dear friend.

    Comment by Afrika Hayes Lambe — October 10, 2017 at 8:45 am

  7. Robert and I have known each other for several years performing with the Opera Company of Boston – and of course at several musical activities. The last time I saw Robert, was about four years ago. He was participating in a program paying tribute to my father–the late reknownd concert singer Roland Hayes. At this performance, he sang many songs that my father may have performed in his early years. It was beautiful.
    Robert was also generous enough to briefly have a coaching session with my cousin and also my great nephew.
    His death is a tremendous shock to me and my family.That beautiful golden voice and his generosity of spirit will always be engraved in my heart.
    Rest In Peace,dear friend.

    Comment by Afrika Hayes Lambe — October 10, 2017 at 9:33 am

  8. The Gift to Sing
    James Weldon Johnson
    Sometimes the mist overhangs my path,
    And blackening clouds about me cling;
    But, oh, I have a magic way
    To turn the gloom to cheerful day—
    I softly sing.
    And if the way grows darker still,
    Shadowed by Sorrow’s somber wing,
    With glad defiance in my throat,
    I pierce the darkness with a note,
    And sing, and sing.
    I brood not over the broken past,
    Nor dread whatever time may bring;
    No nights are dark, no days are long,
    While in my heart there swells a song,
    And I can sing.

    Comment by Judith Conrad — October 10, 2017 at 9:36 am

  9. Robert Honeysucker and I were classmates at Tougaloo College (1960-1964), and we developed a lasting friendship during our junior year when he, Albert Lassiter, and I shared a dormitory room. As an undergraduate he was one of Professor Ariel Lovelace’s most gifted music majors; from Lovelace, Honeysucker learned the special qualities of his voice and absorbed the standards of excellence that served him well during his long career as a teacher and professional opera singer. We were last together during our 50th college reunion in 2014. He blessed the world with his voice.

    Comment by Jerry Ward — October 10, 2017 at 10:08 am

  10. Thank you Rachael for writing this article. I am proud to be your dad.
    My memories of Bob go back to 1974 when I was singing at Payson Park church in Belmont. ( I was Bob’s replacement)
    Then between 1975 and 1980 we sang in many productions with Sarah Caldwell and the Opera Company of Boston. I was always in awe of his powerful and beautiful voice. He and I are both preacher’s sons and you could tell the great spirituality he sang with. Susan, Rachael and I shared a meal with him as recently as this past year. What a kind he was. The world has lost a fine person and singer, but something about Bob will always remain in our hearts.

    Comment by David Fuller — October 10, 2017 at 10:45 am

  11. I will so miss that huge smile that always felt like it was for you! The halls of Longy won’t be the same without him. My heart really goes out to Noriko- his wonderful wife. RIP

    Comment by Phoebe Carrai — October 10, 2017 at 11:22 am

  12. He was such an excellent singer

    Comment by Jerry T.Sherman — October 10, 2017 at 1:57 pm

  13. Knew bob for many years, sang with him at OCB and Emmanuel. Particularly remember a stravinsky Pulcinella we did with Portland symphony. Always a pro and a great colleague. He will be missed!!!

    George Kott

    Comment by george kott — October 10, 2017 at 5:46 pm

  14. Bob generously lent his great voice and spirit to my late husband, Newell Hendricks’s, opera, Ascona, in Sanders Theater. He was a friend to and soloist with Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra. When I would see him at other jobs he was always personally warm and completely dedicated to the music he was about to perform. A great presence in the musical world. He will be sorely missed.

    Comment by Barbara Englesberg — October 10, 2017 at 10:43 pm

  15. I will always remember Robert as one of the kindest , persons that I have ever met. When I think of him on the Tougaloo campus, I see him with with Joyce walking pass the old mansion,holding hands, seemingly, so much in love. Of course, I remember that incredible voice !! What a gift !! I pray that he Rest In Peace and I am sure that he will be singing in heaven !!

    Comment by Carrie Lapsky — October 10, 2017 at 10:57 pm

  16. I’am today because of his vision for me as singer, soloist and member of the Tougaloo College Concert Choir many years ago.

    My journey has taken me from stages nationally and internationally seasoned with the joy of great music instilled because of my wonderful experience with Robert Honeysucker.

    Today all has led to my being a successful Choral Master, Instructor/Professor of Choral and Vocal Music sharing many of my experiences with my students hoping that I also will inspire and lead.

    Thank you Bob – My Choral Director
    Thank you my dear friend!
    Thank you my brother….

    Comment by George-Patrick Johnson — October 11, 2017 at 4:47 am

  17. As an orchestra player I had the privilege of sharing a stage with him dozens of times; each one was a gift. His artistry in concert was deeply moving, and his warmth and generosity backstage was a lesson he gave us all.

    Among the countless inspiring performances I can still hear in my mind’s ear was his incomparable Papageno, delivered under a tent in New Hampshire, so many years ago.

    The Heavenly Choir has just improved; for the rest of us, we’ll miss you, Bob.

    Comment by Mark Rohr — October 11, 2017 at 9:01 am

  18. Bob was an unforgettable colleague and friend from the time when were on the Tufts music faculty together, and I produced three recordings with him for Videmus, the group that he co-founded with Vivian Taylor. I cherish many fine memories: of his Saint Matthew Passion appearance with the Cecilia in 2011; of his superb comic Brindisi in Chabrier’s l’Étoile with the Boston Lyric Opera; and the time when he came all the way to Eastport, Maine, to sing at the Arts Center. Farewell, dear Bob, you left us too soon.

    Comment by Mark DeVoto — October 11, 2017 at 10:03 am

  19. May he rest in peace. It is good to remember those who were in school with you

    Comment by Herbie Banks — October 11, 2017 at 1:00 pm

  20. I had the immeasureable pleasure of singing with Bob over a couple of decades. A truly generous colleague! Performing “Carmina Burana” with him was unforgettable, and he will forever be my definitive ‘Dr. Falke!” His presence and smile would light up the room and the stage, his humor would make it sparkle. A man possessing a warm and kind heart – a man of true grace. The angels are lucky to have him, but he did leave us all too soon!

    Comment by Priscilla Gale — October 11, 2017 at 1:28 pm

  21. He was a wonderful voice teacher, I just adored him! Thank you, sir, for everything. <3

    Comment by Lisa Roby — October 11, 2017 at 3:35 pm

  22. I am saddened to learn that my college classmate has joined the ancestors. Robert was one of the nicest, most decent people I’ve known. I was so glad to see him at our 50th class reunion in 2014. We gathered in Woodworth Chapel and I was reminded of the countless times we heard him sing in the concert choir and where his beautiful baritone voice so often rose above the others. May he rest in eternal peace.

    Comment by Joyce Ladner — October 11, 2017 at 6:45 pm

  23. I had the greatpleasure of knowing Bob at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in the mid 60’s. I can hear in my mind’s ear his singing, along with the student union’s jukebox, Smokey Robinson’s “Tracks of My Tears.” My tears track down my cheeks as I type. What a fine human being.

    Comment by Esther Rupp — October 11, 2017 at 8:04 pm

  24. I had the honor of singing the soprano solo in “Elijah” with Robert Honeysucker years ago in Boston. It was my first encounter with Robert, and his singing was simply stunning, jaw-dropping. He was an equal man as well. I only have the highest regard for this wonderful man his singing. Simply unforgettable. What a huge loss. My heart is broken.

    Comment by Dr. Karen Hall — October 11, 2017 at 9:59 pm

  25. Robert Honeysucker premiered a piece for baritone and chorus at Dartmouth College in the fall of 2017. The piece by composer Nolan Gasser and poet Kevin Young told the story of a little known Civil Rights activist in Mississippi named Booker Wright. Bob’s moving portrayal of this man impacted the Dartmouth students in a incredibly profound way. Although his wife Noriko and I have colloborated for 20 years at Opera North,it was the first time Bob and I had worked together. What a privilege!

    Comment by Louis G Burkot — October 12, 2017 at 8:47 am

  26. I sang with Bob SO many times and always with the same result. A fabulous musical/spiritual experience with a man whose voice was shear magic. Hearing him sing made a person feel touched by an unbelievable force. singing with him made me feel completely whole and fulfilled. He will be sorely missed, both as a singer and an incredible human being!

    Comment by Ellen Chickering — October 12, 2017 at 9:26 am

  27. Words escape me at this moment. His voice will forever haunt me and so many others as transcending beautiful magnificence.

    Comment by Mary Curtin — October 12, 2017 at 10:13 am

  28. Such a treasure gone to sing in another realm. Sorry I missed hearing you in person…someday!!!

    Comment by Madelene Capelle — October 12, 2017 at 1:02 pm

  29. There very first time I heard Bob sing, I was a sophomore in high school. It was during the 1981 Connecticut Opera production of Aida, he was singing Amonasro. This was my first time seeing a live opera and the first time seeing an African American man on the stage singing opera. I immediately knew I wanted to follow in his footsteps. His voice, presence and his name remained forever in my memory.

    In fall of 1983 I began my studies at New England Conservatory of Music in Boston and began attending Grace Community Christian Center where I sang in the choir under the baton of my classmate Anthony Vinson. We were preparing Handel’s Messiah. To my surprise our bass soloist was none other than Robert Honeysucker. I was like a giddy school girl when I finally had the chance to meet him in person. I was in awe. Bob from that time would become a mentor and big brother to me. When I needed him he was there. He gave me tough love, honesty, respect, sage advise, friendship and brotherhood. I always looked forward to speaking with him and to hearing him say “hey baby bruh, how are you doing?”. Well Big Brother, my heart is heavy and I am missing you, but I know you are in good hands. I will keep on sharing the message down here and you sing on my brother in that great heavenly choir and be an advocate on our behalf down here.

    I love you.
    Baby Bruh

    Comment by Vincent Stringer — October 12, 2017 at 1:03 pm

  30. I was pleased and honored to continue his legacy as the teacher of one of his students here at Eastman School of Music.

    Comment by Mr. Jan Opalach — October 12, 2017 at 2:04 pm

  31. Such a terrible loss for all of us in Boston, a great artist with a wonderful voice, a lovely person; will miss him greatly!
    Kati Mitchell

    Comment by Katalin Mitchell — October 12, 2017 at 7:35 pm

  32. A life worth living! You were a gentleman and friend and an artist of the highest calibre. You will be missed!!
    Anne Franciose Perrault

    Comment by Anne Franciose Perrault — October 12, 2017 at 11:15 pm

  33. Studied with Bob for several years; he sang out our wedding. So many memories of his performances… in the chorus for the Bach Christmas Oratorio with Spectrum Singers; his Leporello at the early Peter Seller’s “Don Giovanni”; in a huge white wig singing opposite Sandy Silvan’s Figaro … radio kibbutzing with Robert J singing Spirituals… We used to talk about his Memphis roots… I remember a former Tennessee governor coming up to Bob after a performance to shake his hand…

    So sad for his passing… was just thinking about him this week… stumbled on this news…

    Comment by Peter Catalano — October 13, 2017 at 1:52 pm

  34. Mr. Honeysucker was a great artist and beloved teacher. I never knew him personally, but we came in contact recently as we (Schiller Inst. Chorus) invited him to perform in a concert honoring the great voice coach Sylvia Olden Lee, who he studied with on several occasions throughout the years. Unable to perform, he graciously set an beautiful account of the profound impact Sylvia had on him to be read out loud at the concert tomorrow Oct 15th. It was shocking and very saddening to hear the news of his passing and we will also be remembering Mr. Honeysucker in our program. Our heartfelt condolences to his friends and family who are of course invited to attend.
    St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 14 Cushing Ave, Dorchester October 15th at 4PM

    Comment by Malene Robinson — October 14, 2017 at 1:06 pm

  35. Astounded at our loss; so suddenly, a deep loss. Bob touched so many many people. OK I knew him at Payson Park Church where he was the hired bass and I was one of the regular basses in the early 1970’s so I knew him early early. Then when I started to see him becoming famous he still always remembered me. A week or two after I saw him in Odyssey Opera’s Rienzi in 2013 there he was an Ordinary Mortal in the Mem Drive Trader Joe’s doing some shopping on a Sunday; I thanked him for Rienzi , yes he remembered me of course, and one or two others came up and thanked him. Great Guy…and now he’s gone. Regretfully I was out of town for the memorials.

    Comment by Nathan Redshield — October 15, 2017 at 6:53 pm

  36. Malene Robinson,

    If I recall his stories correctly, he coached “Elijah” with Sylvia Olden Lee, among other things. When he brought her “Elijah,” though, she said “oh, you don’t know what you’ve done. I taught this to Lawrence Tibbett!”

    Comment by Thomas Dawkins — October 15, 2017 at 9:10 pm

  37. I am shaken at this shocking news. What a terrible loss. I first met Bob in 1978 when I was a newly-hired mezzo with Sarah Caldwell’s Opera Company of Boston. He was one of the rising stars at OCB: handsome and charismatic, with an extraordinarily gorgeous voice and commanding stage presence. Bob and I became friends and colleagues and I rejoiced in his many subsequent successes and well-deserved accolades, while continuing to be thrilled as an audience member by his magnificent talent, and a voice that reached into one’s soul and lifted it up. When I was accepted to The Boston Conservatory in 1986 to study for a Master’s in Vocal Music with Iride Pilla, Bob was one of the voice teachers on my juries, and I treasured, appreciated, and learned from his expertise and unfailing support. I will remember him with deep affection as a warm, kind, supportive and encouraging colleague, a magnificent singer, and a lovely human being that graced us with his presence and talent over many years. Thank you, Bob, for sharing your gift and humanity with us. You will be well and truly missed.

    Comment by Denise McMahon Thibeault — November 3, 2017 at 10:42 am

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