Harvey Robbins — Duke of Doo-Wopp

Pictured (l-r): Peter Hernandez, Bill Hanney and Harvey Robbins at the Doo-Wopp Hall of Fame of America in October 2014.
Stephen Richard
Pictured (l-r): Peter Hernandez, Bill Hanney and Harvey Robbins at the Doo-Wopp Hall of Fame of America in October 2014.

By Sheila Barth

Published June 26, 2015, issue of June 25, 2015.

For the past 25 years, Harvey Robbins has been bringing rock ‘n’ roll and doo-wopp extravaganzas to the North Shore Music Theatre (NSMT). This year, he’s featuring two concerts — A Panorama of Rock and Roll History on August 30 and his national event, the Doo-Wopp Hall of Fame of America annual induction and concert, Oct. 18, both on Sundays at 2 p.m.

Robbins, 74, was the only child of Russian immigrants Bernie and Anne Rabinowitz. His father Anglicized the family surname to Robbins when Harvey was three years old. The family moved to Dorchester, just off Morton Street, where Harvey played ball and street hockey with his Jewish neighborhood pals, was bar mitzvahed at Beth Hillel in Dorchester, graduated from Roxbury Memorial High School, where he participated in sports, and performed with his own high school musical group, The Interludes. He also discovered girls and rock ‘n’ roll music. He later earned his bachelor’s master’s and C.A.G.S. degrees.

Robbins has enjoyed a varied, colorful career, as a musical entertainer; a counselor; an award-winning, former official Celtics sports reporter for the Quincy Patriot Ledger; author of a controversial book exposing political wrongdoings; restorer of  harmonic, rhythmic doo-wopp music; and producer of dinner-mystery and cruise shows. The father of three is also an active participant with Friends of Prowse Farm in Canton, where he waged a long battle against developing the property, to preserve it for recreational and conservation purposes.

During last week’s interview, Robbins was in Las Vegas, where he manages all-time Burlesque icon, Tempest Storm. They’re currently filming a documentary on the 87-year-old to air in January. Robbins brought her show to NSMT a few years ago, he says. From Vegas, he was heading to his Boston-to-Bermuda doo-wopp cruise show.

Throughout the years, Robbins realized audiences enjoyed doo-wopp/rock ‘n’ roll performers, and wanted to honor them by organizing more concerts. His first doo-wopp concert debuted August 25, 1985, in the Cape Cod Melody Tent. He’s been going strong since then.

So what’s the appeal of Robbins’ shows, and why especially at NSMT? “The quality and integrity of shows we put forth brings theatergoers back,” he replied. “The lineups and artists may differ, but the quality is what keeps it vibrant at NSMT. People look forward to these shows. Plus they experience the music of their former days.

“This music, [doo-wopp] unlike other forms, has resonated more than 50 years, not only with people who grew up with it, but subsequent audiences. It’s quality music. You can identify with it, through movie sound tracks and seeing artists perform songs of the past. The music is everlasting and has bridged generations. When music is solid, it survives the test of time,” he enthused.

The August 30th three-hour+ show Royalty of Rock ‘n’ Roll show headlines Little Peggy March (of hit song “I Will Follow Him” fame), making her first North Shore appearance; a full Beatles show, featuring tribute band Ticket to Ride; a full Mo Town show, with AJ Smooth, the Sounds of Mo Town; rock and roll Hall of Famer Billy Davis (former Jimi Hendrix’s guitar tutor and co-composer/lead guitarist of the original “The Twist);” a tribute to Herb Reed’s Platters with Tony Funches, (who performed with the group for a decade), and his daughter Porsha, performing a Whitney Houston/Donna Summers show; and Dana Z’s Elvis Presley revue. Robbins says the show is different than anything else audiences have seen.

The October 18th Doo-Wopp Hall of Fame of America induction and concert includes the return of Bruno Mars’ father, Pete Hernandez (both father and son were inducted last year, says Robbins); Jackie Wilson’s son, Bobby Brooks Wilson, who’s returning from last year; the Marcels; Gene Pitt, lead singer of Jive Five; Baby Washington; rhythm and blues pioneer Andre Williams; and sons of original Del Vikings’ Norman Wright. 

Robbins, who emcees the show, also does some background singing. “And I still do a split at the end of the show,” he said.

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