Brenda Ivey Robertson just couldn’t stop smiling.
As she prepared to belt out a few songs of praise into the microphone, the Nashville gospel artist reflected on the unlikely journey from her home, where she continues an eight-year battle with kidney disease, to the recording studio she found herself inside the Bragg Media and Entertainment Building on the Middle Tennessee State University campus.
It had been decades since she’d been in such a studio setting.
“This has been a dream of mine for so many years,” said the petite 68-year-old, who undergoes dialysis multiple times each week.
“What this means to me is to give me an opportunity to touch the community once more in a very positive way, on my way, I say, to my grave. … I truly don’t have the words to say what this all means. I know that this is bigger than me.”
Late last year, Robertson was watching MTSU’s “Out of the Blue” television program on True Blue TV when College of Media and Entertainment Dean Beverly Keel was being interviewed by show host Andrew Oppmann.
Robertson decided to call Keel before Christmas to see if she could donate some of her albums, DVDs and scrapbooks to MTSU’s Center for Popular Music and perhaps talk to students about her life and career.
After visiting Robertson at her home and hearing her life’s story of multiple surgeries, rejected kidney transplants and the wealth of wisdom gained along her journey, Keel invited Robertson to record a few songs, perhaps for the last time, to preserve her musical gifts.
“Like all of us, Brenda just wants to know that her life and her work have mattered. What better way to show her that her voice is important and her life is important than inviting her into the studio to capture her voice forever,” Keel said. “… This is an unforgettable day for us.”
Not only did Keel arrange the studio session on Saturday, Feb. 18, she solicited the immense production talents of Department of Recording Industry chair John Merchant, who was the vocal producer on music icon Barry Gibb’s recent album that went No. 1 in numerous countries.
An internationally known producer/engineer and songwriter, Merchant has worked with Gibb and the Bee Gees for more than 25 years.
To make Robertson’s session even more special, Merchant brough along the same microphone that had been used by music legends Barbra Streisand, Michael Jackson and Gibb.
“This is the first time she’s been in the studio in like 35 years, so it’s an opportunity to capture what she does and to try to do honor and justice by capturing some of her songs to share with the world and to help her share her message for who she is as well as for her music,” Merchant said of Robertson.
Keel noted that MTSU has hosted many memorable performances, including Wynonna’s recent concert with Kelsea Ballerini, Brandi Carlile, Little Big Town and Martina McBride in Murphy Center, as well as Peter Frampton’s international TV taping last month in Tucker Theatre.
The university has also hosted shows by popular rap artists Jack Harlow and Ludacris and special events with superstars like Gibb, Vince Gill and many more, she said.
Robertson’s message is one of perseverance, passion and praise. The sparkling “JESUS” pin resting on the right shoulder of her bright red sweater points to the importance of faith in a life that has been filled with peaks of joy shared with her high school sweetheart and now husband of 35 years, Wilbur, and valleys, including the abortions she chose as a young woman that she now deeply regrets and the health challenges that now plague her.
Despite the many “crazy” decisions she made throughout a life when she “was doing everything I was big enough to do,” Robertson said she finds inspiration in the fact that “God still let me do some amazing things.”
Her message to students: “Focus, study, don’t party too much. Enjoy school, but learn your trade so that you can come out and be successful.”
Like countless starry-eyed Nashvillians, Robertson is a singer who recorded and performed locally but didn’t support herself financially with her music.
She released her own gospel album along with a live album, “Brenda Ivey Presents: A You’re My Neighbor Concert”, which was recorded at the First Baptist Church in Inglewood in 1988 as part of a two-day concert that received local press coverage.
“Of course, Brenda Ivey Robertson isn’t a household name and hasn’t had the success of the other stars who have performed here,” Keel explained, “but this session is no less important.
“Being in Middle Tennessee, we keep up with the music industry, and too often we focus on streaming numbers, concert revenues, award wins … but there are thousands of people in Nashville that do music because they love it.
“So this is a reminder of the people that build the foundation of Middle Tennessee that are here because they love music. … I want MTSU to be viewed as the people’s university.”
Robertson’s songs from her special MTSU session will be made available on her YouTube channel.
— Jimmy Hart (Jimmy.Hart@mtsu.edu)
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