Bob Hale, a life of art and music transitions

Robert Monroe “Bob” Hale

by S. Rotan Hale

Several years ago (2014) Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, in northwest, hosted a meet the artist event celebrating the 90th birthday of photographer/musician Bob Hale a notable artist and one of the church’s oldest members.

Sitting on the porch of his modest two-story home located several doors from the church on Patton Ave., the Roanoke native reminisced about the life and times of his colorful and storied past.

With the setting autumn sun glistening against his white beard, Hale spoke with the jovial and gentle spirit of a monastic monk.

“I had two young people that actually wanted me to be their guru,” he said making reference to when he once studied Yoga while living in Boston, MA.

Elaborating on what he learned from Yoga, he impressively explained, “We as humans exist on 3 levels; a conscious level, a subconscious level and the physical self. Our lives are totally dependent on how we process things. We may choose to reject something consciously, thinking we’re unaffected by it. But eventually it will flare up–awakened from the subconscious realm and render the psychic unstable to some degree. This state (of mind) often poses potentially troubling results as we’ve experience in today’s society with school shootings, high crime, politics entangled in corruption, etc.”

As with most artistic types, Hale, was a meditative man who had never been one to follow convention and boasts of rarely ever driving a car.

“I rode a bicycle for 45 years and use to ride all the way from Tremont St. (Boston Back Bay area) to Cape Cod (approx. 60 mi) and even farther to Hyannis,” (approx. 70 mi.). Hale first went to Boston in 1951 where he studied music (piano) at the Phil Saltman School of Music on Commonwealth Ave. He returned to Roanoke and formed The Sharps & Flats and later another band the Chromatics. As jazz dance bands, they played local nightspots as the Roanoke Auditorium in northeast, Royal Gardens in northwest and The Morocco Club as well as the Star City Auditorium that were both located on Henry Street.

“When White bands performed at the Roanoke Auditorium, Blacks would spectate from the balcony and when Black bands performed, Whites would spectate from the balcony…each watching the other party as they danced. It was 85¢ in advance and $1.10 at the door,” he recalled as he laughed.

Hale talked about the local music scene back in the day (early fifties). He mentioned local musicians as: trumpeter Bob Macklin, sax man Jim Billy Morris, bassists Warren Peters and drummer Johnny Haslip.

After a little over a year he returned to Boston in 1953 and enrolled at the Shillinger House which offered courses in jazz and contemporary music–unlike other schools that only taught classical music. “Shillinger had a method of teaching that used numbers integrated with the notes,” he said. “There was only about 50 students at the school when I was there and now there is probably 5,000.”

The school, under the direction of founder Lawrence Berk would later become the famed Berkley College of Music, at the time it was the largest independent college of contemporary music in the world.

After college and a brief period back in Roanoke, he returned to Boston in 1960, worked his photography and occasionally performed in clubs around Back Bay and surrounding areas. Hale had a column “Roving Camera” in the Bay State Banner, Boston’s African American weekly and also worked briefly at the VA hospital there.

He served in the U.S. Army 1313 Corps of Engineers and spoke briefly of his experiences overseas during WWII. “We followed the troops as they pushed the Germans back; assisted in building bridges and kept the roads clear so supplies could get through. I was in southern England when they were preparing to invade Normandy,” he said. “But we didn’t go in until about 2 or 3 weeks after the invasion during clean-up operations.”

Looking back regarding his photography, Hale credits his older brother Bay with introducing him to the art. Hale remembered his brother Bay was one of few Blacks in this area that got into photography full force back in the days of black & white before color.

As everyone in the community knows, Blacks in Roanoke (of a certain age) that had a family photo taken in the ‘50s or ‘60s, most likely had that photo taken by Bob or Bay Hale. They were Roanoke’s photographers extraordinaire.

Among the first cameras Hale used was a twin lens Nishika and also a Univex–an obsolete brand that dates back to the early ‘30s. Several years ago he made the transition to digital photography and later used a Fuji FinePix S–which is a far cry from the days of Univex.

In 1987, Hale retuned home to the area and slipped into a simple life only to perform occasionally, “tickling those ivories,” as some in would say. This preeminent double medium artist spent the last few years in quietude–comforted by a menagerie of fond memories perfectly nestled in a conglomerate of captivating pictures and music.

Unfortunately due to current pandemic restrictions, Hale’s family was unable to be with him as he transitioned quietly at a local nursing home.

Official Obituary

ROBERT M. HALE

Robert Monroe Hale fondly known as “Bob,” was born in Roanoke, October 8, 1924 and departed this earthly life on September 12, 2020 in peace.

He was preceded in death by his late wife Althamae Golden Hale.

Bob was a retired musician and photographer for over 60-yrs. In Boston, MA where he lived for 30 years and it was there that he combined his two great loves “Music and Photography.” He attended Bostons Berklee School of Music and learned to read and write music. Bob also had a long-standing column in Boston’s “Bay State Banner” African American Newspaper as “The Roving Camera” (The picture man).

The 1946 graduate of Lucy Addison High School; served in WWII in the Army Engineer Corp (1943 – 1945). He received a host of honors, recognitions, and awards for his outstanding contributions in the communities where he resided.

On his 90th birthday, his church, Fifth Ave. Presbyterian honored him with “Man of the Year” award.

Surviving are his children, Robert, Stanley, Rhonda and Natalie Hale; 5 grandchildren; 10 great-grands; several nieces and nephews and a host of other loving relatives and friends.

Bob lived a life of simplicity and prosperity in the simple pleasures of life. He was often seen riding his pride and joy (his bicycle) that he said kept him fit and trim.

No services will be held, only a private graveside burial for immediate family.

In lieu of flowers the family ask that you make donations and contributions to OXFAM America in Bobs memory, Website: oxfamamerica.org

The family is extremely grateful for all expressions of love and sympathy and may the Lord continue to Bless you, each and all!