Roberta Martin (1907-1969) was one of the most articulate and influential singers of black American gospel music. A singer, pianist, composer, arranger, and organizer of groups and choirs, Roberta Martin’s unique combination of musical elements became the standard for what was known as the gospel era.
One of six children, Roberta was born in Helena, Arkansas. Her family moved to Chicago when she was 10 years old. Her first role in the church was as a pianist for the Young People’s Choir of Ebenezer Baptist Church. There she organized a quartet, which in 1936 expanded to include two more singers and became the Roberta Martin Singers. The group traveled all over the country, playing concert halls, stadiums, churches, festivals, and on radio and television stations in the United States and Europe, until their retirement in the 1960s. The choral sound that the ensemble created provided a model for community-based church gospel choirs.
In 1939, Roberta established what became the largest gospel music publishing house in Chicago. Through this position, she was able to reach thousands of performers across the country. During her lifetime, Roberta Martin published 280 gospel songs.