OAKLAND (CBS 5) - From seniors to jail inmates, people who can't get out to see a concert can have performances brought to them, thanks to a longtime Bay Area musician. This week's Jefferson Award winner shares the healing power of music.
In the choral room of an Oakland church, chorus members crowded around the piano to sing, "Shine your light, as you struggle up that slope, shine your light."
At the keyboard is Ellen Robinson, who says she's known since childhood that she would shine her light through her music.
"Singing is the most exhilarating instrument to play. And it's so connecting," she said.
For more than 30 years, Robinson has felt at home entertaining audiences all over the Bay Area as a jazz singer, composer, conductor, director, arranger, coach, and teacher. But what sets her apart is where she takes her tunes.
"We'll go anywhere where music will lift people up and it always does," Robinson added with a smile.
Robinson founded the Anything Goes community chorus in San Francisco and Oakland three decades ago. Under her direction, they perform free concerts at retirement homes, homeless shelters, and even jails and half-way houses, where audiences experience the magic of her music.
"They're longing to find a way to have fun and connect with other people without having it be connected to something they're addicted to," Robinson explained.
Hillary Dreyfuss knew Ellen's singers hit the right notes when her father saw them perform at an assisted living residence.
"He came alive in a way and it was as if the years fell away," Dreyfuss remembered.
Months later, Dreyfuss herself joined "Girlfriendz," one of Robinson's women's ensembles.
She and fellow singer Roberta Brooks caught Robinson's passion, giving the gift of music with those who hurt.
"It's quite a remarkable transformation that takes place when we see what we can give," said Brooks. "And we feel like we're getting a huge gift back. "
Drummer and CD producer Bud Spangler says Robinson's warmth strikes a chord, when she invites her audience to sing and dance along.
"When she sings, there's so much heart or joy or whatever the emotion is, audiences are very moved and touched by that," Spangler said.
"I could be in a hard place and get up in front of students and an audience and it just turns me on. It makes me feel like I can make a difference," said Robinson.
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