St. Johns County is home to an outstanding music scene, with dozens of live music venues featuring performances by talented local performers, and a world-class amphitheater with concerts by internationally artists throughout the year. Our musical roots are deep, with public schools that include an exceptional performing arts academy and the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, founded on 5 riverfront acres in Uptown St. Augustine in 1885 and now the largest school of its kind, a school that provided the formal music education for two of the world’s most accomplished pianists.
Ray Charles Robinson – who contracted glaucoma at six and became blind soon after - attended the school from 1937 until 1945. During his eight years there, he learned to play piano, organ, clarinet and saxophone. He was expelled as an “unsatisfactory pupil”, dropped his last name to avoid confusion with the boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, and went on to become one of the most famous performers of all time. Ray Charles received more than a dozen Grammy awards and was inducted into the Rock, Jazz, and Rhythm and Blues halls of fame before his death in 2004.
Another FSDB student has been hailed (by Wynton Marsalis, among others) as “the greatest American musician most people have never heard of.” Marcus Roberts, born in Jacksonville in 1963 and – like Charles – a victim of glaucoma – entered the school in 1973. Roberts credits the late St. Augustine music teacher Hubert Foster (who first introduced him to Bach and Beethoven) with developing his musical talent. Roberts is a virtuoso pianist and composer who has performed with symphonies around the world; leads the Marcus Roberts Trio and band the Modern Jazz Generation; serves as the Associate Artistic Director of the Savannah Music Festival and is an Associate Professor of Music at Florida State University. Roberts was profiled on the television series 60 Minutes in 2014 in a segment appropriately titled “The Virtuoso.” He returns to his alma mater in St. Augustine to work with music students there and performs regularly in the area, most recently joining the Jacksonville Symphony for a stellar improvised performance of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Learn more about Marcus Roberts here.