Well-Known Musician, Non-Profit Founder Returns To Folk Roots With New Album

Jul 20, 2017

An old photo of Bob Rowe performing for seniors in Calhoun County. (This photo has been edited for clarity)
Credit courtesy of Bob Rowe

Longtime singer-songwriter Bob Rowe has finished his first folk album in over a decade. It’s called “Higher Ground" and it’s a return to Rowe’s roots after almost 30 years of playing country and gospel - and running his own non-profit. 

Renaissance Enterprises

Rowe was a regular on the local music scene, but says it was starting his non-profit, Renaissance Enterprises, in 1988 that made him famous. It brings artists and musicians to perform for people in nursing homes.

Rowe’s grandmother lived with him for most of his childhood. Since then he’s always had a connection with seniors. 

“I’ll never forget a lady - I was up in a facility way up in Grayling, Michigan - and she was wheeled in and was totally slumped down in the chair and non-responsive. Not really asleep, but just given up. And they formed the residents in a semi-circle, and I walked around the semi-circle two or three times and I was determined to get a response out of that lady. And I walked over there for the third time and all of the sudden she straightened up and started singing ‘This Little Light of Mine, I’m Going to Let it Shine’ and a huge smile came on her face. And they wheeled her back to the room after the program and she was still singing.”

Renaissance Enterprises now has between 30 to 50 artists doing more than 120 performances a year. And in 2006, Rowe and his organization received the Mother Teresa award.

“I remember writing the first letter to [Mother Teresa] telling her about my work - which I had just started at that point with the elderly and never expected a response and totally forgot about it. And lo and behold - a month and a half or two months later - an envelope came postmarked Calcutta, India and it was very dingy looking and non-descript. And I thought, could this be? And I open it up and it was a hand-typed and signed letter from Mother Teresa with very personal comments in there about our work. And that kind of began a correspondence that lasted about 15 years until she passed away.”

Bob Rowe performing with The Green Valley Boys in 2010
Credit courtesy of Bob Rowe

The Green Valley Boys

Meanwhile, in his musical life, Rowe was releasing gospel albums. He also joined up with the esteemed country band The Green Valley Boys in 1990. The Green Valley Boys started a well-known radio show called the Green Valley Jamboree on WKZO in the 1940s, which later also became a TV show.

It aired on TV for 36 years and stayed on the radio for 44. The band is now immortalized in the Michigan Country Music Hall of Fame.

“The Green Valley Boys and the show are in the Country Music Hall of Fame because they had the longest running country music television show in any market in the world - not just Kalamazoo, Michigan, but anywhere," says Rowe.

Bob Rowe and one of his favorite folk artists, Joan Baez
Credit courtesy of Bob Rowe

Returning To His Folk Roots

After many years of throwing himself into non-profit work, Rowe says he’s shifting his focus to the music. He says the songs in his new album “Higher Ground” are reminiscent of his all-time favorite folk artists - like Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and Peter, Paul, & Mary. 

“So I’m very kind of fulfilled as an artist by doing this album because it’s getting back to my very roots in folk music and what I really started out loving," says Rowe.

"It’s not necessarily an upper album or a feel-good album. It’s more introspective and a journey album for my life, but I think it’s a good one.”

Rowe says the album reflects a tough time in his life. Within a year, he lost his mother, his good friend Martha, and a host of other relatives. Rowe says the songs on the album aren't deeply depressing, they're simply honest - and that's the kind of music he enjoys the most:

“You know when I buy a Mary Chapin Carpenter album, or Joan Baez, or Indigo Girls, or Adele and some of the newer artists - it’s always those songs that tug at my heart strings and pull my soul out of me that get me the most. I like the entertaining songs that are fun, but it’s the really introspective, honest songs with a really great melody that have always spoken to my heart.”

Bob Rowe’s new album “Higher Ground” will have its official release on September 1st. You can also buy it online. Bob Rowe and The Green Valley Boys will perform at Kindelberger Park in Parchment on August 13th. The show starts at 7:30 p.m.