Robert Randolph is an artist who needs no introduction. Along with his Family Band, the eclectic and massively talented pedal steel player has garnered numerous accolades for his scorching style of music that draws on soul, gospel, funk, blues and rock and roll. In normal times, Randolph spends much of his year on the road, stirring up dance parties for hungry crowds with jam-heavy headlining sets or sitting in with major acts. But these days Randolph is taking on even more ambitious projects that find him stretching beyond his own music.
In June, Randolph brought together some of the world’s biggest musical artists to celebrate Juneteenth and pay tribute to the history, struggles, and accomplishments of Black culture in America. He also used the event as a launching pad for a coalition of grassroots organizations that are working to make a difference in the Black community, including his own Create Your Future Program. The new initiative, which launched in his home town of Newark, NJ in August, supports underprivileged youth. According to a press release, the program “explores high-demand, high-salary career paths through simulated work environments with local professionals, equipping participants with practical, hands-on skills, and introducing them to local business owners.” To say this is a lofty project for a musician who always has plenty on his plate is an understatement, but Randolph is up for the challenge and is dedicated through helping his community through action.
Recently, we spoke with Randolph about his Create Your Future Program, Juneteenth Unityfest, tackling racial injustice, new music, and the artists he is digging these days.
Can you talk about the Create Your Future program and why you wanted to launch it? What kind of programs do you plan to implement with the program?
It is a program that I worked to develop with my team to give kids all the necessary knowledge, tools, and skills to develop and create their future in industries they are passionate about, such as science, technology, engineering, math, television, and film.
I want to create opportunities for all youth to succeed in life. As we know, when we were growing up, we used to have trades programs, and you would gain skills. Those classes no longer exist, whether it was home economics, woodshop, electrical, plumbing, or auto mechanics.
So, with the CRE8 Your Future program, as we sit here in 2021 going into 2022, we want to focus on providing a diverse curriculum paired with technology in regard to these programs to help strengthen underserved communities and transform the lives of youth and their loved ones.
Where did the idea for the Juneteenth Unityfest come from?
Juneteenth Unityfest resulted from all that was happening in the world in 2020 and observing how the world was using the story of Juneteenth with many people still being uneducated on what the day symbolizes and the rallying point.
I felt that there was a need to bring people together, educate, learn about the history of slavery, and talk about progress. So as we were coming off the horrific murder of George Floyd, going into many others, and we were watching people protest, wanting change and progress. We came up with the idea of creating this festival that would first celebrate Juneteenth, which is now a holiday, for the end of slavery, tell the story of Juneteenth, highlight all the accomplishments and all the community organizations who are focused on bringing people together and progress.
We created awareness across the world to all these community organizations that already exist, are doing the work, and how we are all focused on creating a brighter future for the world.
Having the rest of the country celebrate this wonderful day and show all the accomplishments resulting from slavery, the struggles we’ve overcome, and the challenges that we are still facing, and using that as a platform to unite people together.
Do you see yourself scaling it up to a full-scale event in the future?
Yes, as we start planning Juneteenth Unityfest 2022, we reflect on our original vision of bringing people together at live events. We had plans to have events at the national mall and other locations; due to covid restrictions and the unpredictability of what would happen, we decided to pivot to a larger virtual platform that reached more than 1.5 million people.
So, as we approach Juneteenth Unityfest 2022 and years beyond, we will have several locations across the country to provide a live Juneteenth celebratory experience with community partners, music, art, and culture. We are going to have a massive music festival where we can all celebrate in person.
As a Black musician in America, do you feel like there is an importance to using your platform to tackle issues of racial injustice?
I feel not only as a black musician but as all musical artists; the example has already been put in place by many other great artists that we look up to, who we’ve tried to replicate, and who we sing their songs. When you talk about people like John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Sly and The Family Stone, James Brown, these were the most prominent artists during their time. They used their microphone and talents to enlighten the world of all the different injustices and inequities that exist and still exist.
Through music and song, you tell stories. Songs are stories of the past, present, and the future and give us the chance to look within ourselves and enlighten others on how we can all do better. As a musician, there is a need for me to encourage others around me to continue to do so. When you look at those artists that I just named, they dedicated their artistry, God-given talents, and abilities to try and make the world a better place and bring people together. I am very passionate about accomplishing this.
Do you have any new music in the works?
Yes, I am working on new music with a bunch of incredible artists. First, it’s the 20th anniversary of the album that we recorded called The Word, which was the collaboration of me, North Mississippi Allstars, John Medeski, and many others, that was a tribute to sacred steel music. We are working on a new record with The Word, also working on new Robert Randolph and The Family Band Music. I am also writing and recording songs with many other greats, Rob Thomas, Michael Franti, to name a few.
As you know, you can never make too much music, in this is the world that we live in. We’ve been locked down long enough that we want to make as much music as we can for our fans, which allows us to make the world a better place. It’s been an awesome time.
Can we expect a full-scale Robert Randolph tour coming soon?
Yes, I’m going on tour. We have many shows booked in September and October; we will be out with Buddy Guy and playing at many other festivals. We have some dates with Dave Matthews Band and a host of other artists. I’ll be doing a combination of Robert Randolph and The Family Band and Robert Randolph with Friends with a special all-star tribute to blues and rock. It’s going to be a great time, so check out Robert Randolph and The Family Band on Facebook, Instagram, all the socials, and robertrandolph.net for all the tour dates. We will be coming to a city near you, so check us out.
As an artist who has been around for a while and also plays a fairly unique instrument, are there any young acts that you have been digging lately that you feel are following a similar path to you?
There are a lot of great acts that I’ve come to appreciate and admire, a lot of young bands. You have a band called herotheband; you have Phony Ppl and Marcus King. Marcus is someone I am looking up to and admiring, and he reminds me of when we were coming up and starting out. He has exploded onto the scene, along with another young group of brothers called The Peterson Brothers; they are awesome.
I am also digging Chloe x Halle, H.E.R, all all-amazing artists doing incredible things musically, influencing many other young artists, and inspiring everyone. They are setting the new example of attracting younger audiences, gaining an appreciation for roots music, and looking within. Those are my picks for influential young artists.