Brooklyn Roberts  

He called himself Brooklyn Roberts. I got curious about him because he wanted to remain hidden. Then I heard he was shot and killed for almost 1) nothing. When I was 23 I got involved in a non-profit cooperative coffee house that served home-baked goods, coffee and tea. It was also the land of the eternal open mike. The only 2) rule about playing there was that the music had to be acoustic. Eventually we would be run out of the house where we had set up shop because the 3) neighborhood association didn't like the hippie types hanging around. That was New Orlean in 1975. Things got there a little late.

But when the coffee house was still thriving, Brooklyn Roberts used to sign up for the open mike now and then. He was thin, fine-boned, losing his dirty blond hair too soon. I guessed that he was a little 4) older than I was. He always came looking like a laborer from the early 1900s, dressed in 5) old-fashioned working class, Saturday evening clothes. His performances on the guitar and piano were polished. He played rootsy blues, Robert Johnson tunes, that sort of thing. He'd 6) finish his set, collect whatever tips he'd made, pack up his things and leave. No, he'd disappear, always.

I once asked him to play at a benefit for the coffee house that was going to be held in a local park. He arrived, spiffily dressed as usual, carrying a little 7) suitcase in addition to his guitar. The path to our tiny stage crossed an area where the children's railroad track ran. As he approached our gathering, he deliberately 8) started walking between the rails of the miniature track. He looked up at me and smiled. He was in his persona, walking on a 9) railroad track like a Depression-era wanderer. He played a great set of old-time blues that day, interjecting an occasional sleight of hand trick. At one point he flipped a silver dollar in the air and bounced it off the heel of his shoe, back up in the air into his hand. When he 10) caught it, he appeared as amazed as the audience. He finished his set and disappeared. Lots of people wanted to talk to him, but he just vanished.

Later that year, I attended an early incarnation of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. I was waiting for Muddy Waters to play his set when I spied Brooklyn Roberts near the edge of the 11) stage talking to a stage hand or manager. I turned away to talk to some friends. Minutes later when I looked back, Brooklyn Roberts was at the piano playing some 12) wonderful ragtime and jelly-roll blues. He played for about five minutes. I guessed that he had talked the stage manager into letting him play until Muddy was 13) ready for his set. He'd had no introduction, nothing. Brooklyn Roberts just got up there and played, and then he 14) disappeared.

The next year I helped organize a benefit for New Orleans street musicians. My group 15) performed at it and so did Brooklyn Roberts. Again, he played a terrific set of old-time blues on the piano. Again, he disappeared at the end of the set. He had come dressed in his usual period attire. But later when I spotted him sitting in the 16) audience a few rows away from me, he had changed into modern clothes and was wearing a floppy Gilligan style rag hat. I called to him, wanting to congratulate him on his great set. He 17) stayed where he was and smiled in acknowledgement. Then he just turned away and pulled 18) down his hat a little farther.

Years later, after I'd left New Orleans, I asked a friend about him. She told me that he had been 19) shot and killed for his money and his jacket. My friend told me she'd heard that he'd said to his assailants, "You wouldn't 20) shoot me for my jacket, would you?" And they did. I made some other inquiries. All I ever found out was that he had been a well-liked coach, Coach Bob at the local Jewish community center. I still have his business card. In the four corners are floral ironwork designs and his name appears in capital letters in the center, Brooklyn Roberts. This is all I know about him.'


1. He played rootsy bloues, Robert Johnson music.

2. He would disappear/vanish.

3. He was a well-liked (popular) coach at his community center. He was shot and killed for his money and his jacket.