New Orleans Songbird, Robin Barnes
It is one of those late May mornings in New Orleans; the dog days of summer are on the horizon, but although the heat is just beginning to bare its teeth, it hasn’t yet begun bite.
Sitting outside CC’s Coffee House on Esplanade, New Orleans native Robin Barnes, professional jazz singer and founder of Fit By You – her line of New Orleans-centric fitness clothing - positively vibrates with enthusiasm without any help from caffeine.
Historically speaking, the life of a working jazz singer is not often known to lend itself towards a healthy lifestyle, but 27-years-old Barnes looks fit and strong, and younger than her age. Her dark eyes shine as she talks about her musical career, and the passion she feels for her latest business endeavor, Fit By You, glows in her voice like the gathering New Orleans heat.
Taking her organizer out of her backpack, Barnes lays it open face-up on the iron table. The white paper pages are dark with ink; each page crammed so full of appointments that barely any white can be seen. Obviously Robin Barnes, the Songbird of New Orleans, keeps a busy schedule. But perhaps this is to be expected; after all, she has been singing professionally since she was six.
The Trials and Tribulations of Making Music
“I sang my first solo in church,” remembered Barnes. “Now I recognize how I felt then; it was a blissful moment, and I just knew that I wanted to be a singer. I still feel those same chills every single time I sing.” “And,” she laughed, “Mom and dad told me they knew that I was going to be a singer from the moment I was born. They said I had the biggest cry – the biggest lungs for a little baby!”
Related as she is to distinguished local legend Dave Bartholomew, and with her family’s band, the Soul Heirs, a well-known addition to the local music scene, Barnes is familiar with both the “trials and tribulations” that many professional musicians face, as well as the joy of making music and doing what you love. “My family didn’t want me to be a musician - they wanted me to be doctor or a lawyer or anything else,” said Barnes. “You have to understand the downside. Many musicians don’t have health insurance; if they get sick they can lose their gigs. My family knew all about the challenges.”
The Art of Doing Business
Acting on her family’s advice, Barnes graduated from UNO with a bachelor’s degree in business management, and a master’s degree in business administration, and was ready to give corporate America a try.
“I lasted about four months,” said Barnes. “I could fake it, but I just wasn’t happy. I saw so many people around me, working 9 to 5, who just didn’t seem to have a dream. So I quit. I didn’t even have a gig, but I just wasn’t going to not try to realize my dream.”
Already familiar with the creative side of being a professional musician, Barnes said her education gave her a business-savvy foundation on which to build her musical career. It wasn’t
long until “small miracles” started to happen, she said, that included becoming the weekly headliner at the Hotel Monteleone and the Windsor Court Hotel here in New Orleans; the 2013 release of her successful EP, Me; and working as a touring musician both in the U.S. and overseas.
Wake Up Call
However, it was after once such tour in 2013 that Barnes’ life took a potentially fatal turn. After returning home from a two weeks in Greece, she suddenly fell sick with what would prove to be life-altering illness.
“Greece was a fun time, because, like New Orleans, that is the culture there,” said Barnes. “So it was two weeks with lots of coffee; lots of energy drinks; lots of drinking and sweets. When I fell sick, I didn’t think too much of it – I thought it was just jet lag or something. But then I could hardly walk because of the pain in my side, and my mom forced me to go the ER.”
When Barnes was diagnosed with a rare strain of kidney infection, she was shocked. “The ER doctor was very positive,” remembered Barnes. “She reassured me that, because of my general health and age, I would kick that infection’s butt. But when I visited my own doctor a month later, he told me that I might have actually died if I hadn’t gone to the ER when I did. Just gone! At 25 years old. Can you imagine that? If someone told me that after just two weeks of junk food I would find myself in that position I’d have never believed them. So I decided that I was going to completely rework my life.”
Fit By You: Move Your Brass
For Barnes, reworking her life involved cutting back on sugar, caffeine and fat; setting up a regular workout schedule; and founding Fit By You.
“Fit By You started because I wanted to motivate people and raise awareness of healthful living,” said Barnes. “But the clothing aspect of Fit By You started because I couldn’t find anything to work out in that wasn’t black or gray. New Orleans is all about color. It is all about flair, it is all about movement, and my friends had started calling me ‘The Woman in Black.’ So I decided to get clothes made for me. Today, my two worlds were health and music. I love both of them.”
Fit By You offers tanks, leggings, and shorts, that emphasize bright colors, witty spins on jazzy New Orleans-centric catchphrases - such as Move Your Brass, and Throw Me Something Mister - nods to New Orleans’ Mardi Gras Indians, and the city’s best know symbol, the Fleur de Lis, in black and gold. The clothes are fun, their catchphrases are funny, and very importantly, they are all designed with the city’s occasionally breathtakingly sweltering climate in mind.
“It just gets so very hot here,” said Barnes. “So we use a mix of spandex and spun cotton: all breathable materials. New Orleanians have so much style, so I wanted clothes that were comfortable but were also exciting to wear.”
The Perfect Balance
With her debut solo album Robin on the horizon, Barnes also hopes that she will be able to work with Musician’s Clinic in New Orleans. One thing is certain – her future looks like a busy one.
“I am still learning every day,” she smiled. “Running two businesses is organized chaos, and merging my two worlds can be challenging. I am from New Orleans and I love fried food. I work late, and that makes getting up early in the morning to work out hard. But for me, being healthy is all about balance. I hope that Fit By You will motivate people to realize that life is great, to be positive, and to let’s try and treat our bodies well. After all, the very first tank I had made for me, Move Your Brass, is our best seller!”
Further information on Robin Barnes Music is available at: www.robinbarnesmusic.com