Premier jazz saxophonist Robert “Bootsie” Barnes has been proclaimed a Philadelphia treasure.
“Bootsie” began his musical career at age 6 on piano switching to drums at 10. His grandmother gave him a saxophone at age 19 and he knew he had found his niche. In school, classmates included drummers, Lex Humphries, Bill Cosby, Al “Tootie” Heath; bassist “Spanky” DeBrest, trumpeter Lee Morgan, and a host of Philadelphia giants who went on to help shape the maturing sound of jazz music. Those who had the biggest influence on him were his father, who played trumpet with Bill Doggett’s 16 piece big band, and his cousin Jimmy Hamilton, saxophonist and star clarinetist of Duke Ellington’s band for 26 years.
In the 60’s and early 70’s Bootsie played the renowned “Chitterling Circuit” which included clubs such as South Jersey’s Dreamland, Cotton Club, Laurettas’ Hi Hat, Pearl’s Celebrity Room and Over the Top. His highly articulated tenor style also graced Atlantic City’s Club Harlem and The Wonder Garden. A few of the legendary Philly clubs at which he performed include The Aqua Lounge, Just Jazz, The Blue Note, Nite Cap, The Showboat and Pep’s. Worked with Big Bands of Sam Reed, Johnny Lynch's Club Harlem Band, Bennie Lyons, Lloyd Price's Big Band,(under the direction of the great Kenny Dorham.) and the Al Grey Little Big Band .
A significant accomplishment for Bootsie was being elected the Youngest ever Assistant Secretary of Philadelphia’s only Black Local #274 American Federation of Musician’s where he served from 1971-1974. This organization was a forerunner of today's Clef Club of the Performing Arts which was founded by the Late Former President of Local #274, JIMMY ADAMS.