Her lyrics may be familiar, but there is a unique soul behind the words. With eyes closed and hands in loose fists, she harnesses an energy that synthesizes into a symphony.
Singing since the age of four, Bartlett has always found a way to include music in her life. For eight years she worked at a hotel front desk during the day to support herself, pursuing her singing career at night. After snatching opportunities to tour in Europe three times and open for artists such as Frank Sinatra and Sheryl Crow at the Louisville Palace, Bartlett has fully committed to music as both her livelihood and passion.
The singer’s hard work and dedication has paid off. Thanks to an anonymous fan, Bartlett will be performing during the Kentucky State Fair at Cardinal Stadium Aug. 17, opening for R&B singer and producer Keith Sweat.
After seeing Bartlett perform the late Etta James’ “At Last” and Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” on WHAS11’s “Great Day Live” last February, a viewer sent in the video to Sweat’s team. The Kentucky State Fair board, soon after, asked if Bartlett would be his opening act. She was thrilled, having had no idea the performance on WHAS11 would do more than promote a masquerade ball at the Mellwood Arts & Entertainment Center.
“I was speechless. I thought, ‘Wow, they picked me? They want me? They like my voice? What is it?’” Bartlett still has no idea who propelled her to this opportunity, but she hopes to find out exactly who it was in order to show them her gratitude.
Right now, however, the singer is “all work,” staying focused on the task at hand – entertaining and preparing the audience. “I’ve been racking my head thinking (about) what are going to be the right songs to get (the audience) ready for Keith Sweat because that’s my job,” she said. Bartlett is expecting a blended crowd of younger and older generations, and plans to focus on classic R&B tunes that will inspire the audience to sing along, such as Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On.”
A varied audience is likely at the concert, as Sweat has taken on multiple musical endeavors. He is most known for his ‘80s and ‘90s hits like 1987’s “I Want Her” and 1996’s “Twisted.” Sweat also has been discovering bands and producing singles for years, working with such groups as Silk and LSG with Gerald Levert and Johnny Gill, which released their self-titled debut Levert.Sweat.Gill with the 1997 hit “My Body.”
Once the concert is over, Bartlett hopes she will be considered for future performances at the fairground or asked to open for other artists around the country. Even though she has warmed up crowds for international artists, she has yet to meet many of them personally. The singer is not only looking forward to the meet and greet with Sweat and fans before the show, but will also be giving it “the ol’ college try” to get Sweat to accompany her to Jeff Ruby’s on West Main Street, where she regularly performs, afterward.
Raised in Louisville, she believes she’s been blessed by the opportunities that people and businesses in the community have granted her. “I have (been) pretty fortunate to live here and work as much as I have. With me being here, sometimes I’ve been in the right place at the right time to where people may not have heard me if I were anywhere else,” she said.
Bartlett has been honored with local recognition, such as the 2010 “Sylvester Weaver Award” for those who “preserve, promote and perpetuate the blues,” and was a finalist for the 2010 “Best of Louisville Awards” for Louisville Magazine. She recently wrote the score for the film, “Gift of Love,” in which she played piano and sang lyrics written by Travis Myles.
Bartlett currently performs for restaurants, pep rallies and private parties in Louisville, singing frequently at Volare Italian Ristorante and Jeff Ruby’s. Bartlett has asked her fans to wear red to the Friday show, partly in support of her beloved Louisville Cardinals, but mainly to unify the audience.
Bartlett’s draw to singing is not the chance to showcase her talent, but rather to foster a connection with others. It’s the emphasis she puts on emotion in each performance that may have prompted that anonymous audience member to propel her to the stage this Friday.
“When I sing I’m hoping the audience feels what I’m feeling. I truly love singing,” she said, drawing out the emphasis on “love.” “I get people to say, ‘Wow you’re really into it.’ Well, you know I’m going out here to put my all into it,” she explained. “I want them to feel me.”
Robbie Bartlett will be performing at the Kentucky State Fair in Cardinal Stadium Aug. 17 at 8 p.m before Keith Sweat. Gates open at 6:30 p.m. and the concert is free with admission to the fair. Bartlett will also be singing at Jeff Ruby’s after her performance at 9 p.m. Her music and schedule can be found at www.robbiebartlett.com.
Photos by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune