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I grew up in East Chicago, Indiana. When folks razz me about coming from Indiana, they assume I grew up around corn, but I basically grew up in a steel town. The fact that the Jackson Five came out of Gary created this vibrant music scene in Northwest Indiana . . . . I was brought up on a lot of what those old Motown guys used to do because my father sang a long time ago; he actually did a few shows with the Jackson Five before they hit Motown. Yeah, my mom had little Michael on her lap! In fact, the final farewell concert that the Jackson Five did out of Gary was with my dad's group.

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In college, I was an English major and the plan was to try to get a record deal and write songs. When I found out that I wasn't going to get the biggest deal in the world, I just decided to pretty much quit altogether. But I was doing some shows with these oldies groups. One of them was called the Spaniels. I became friends with their bass singer, Billy Shelton. He said, “Well, I need a singer, so before you quit, you gotta come in and sing with me.” They were great gigs. And I looked around and realized that he had amazing singers already, and he didn't need me. He was just giving me a kick in the pants to say, “Don't stop doing this. This is what you are. Chicago's right here.”


I do 200 shows a year. I would say 60% of my work is downtown Chicago, which is great. One month, I'm going right downtown to the Signature Room or the Willis Tower – or name a big ballroom in the city and I'm there. But the next month I might be flying to Rome or Shanghai. So it's a fascinating job . . . . The plan was that you have to be famous in order to do this for a living. That's what I thought and I was wrong. 

I started in Lincoln Park, which I really liked, but I just needed a little more quiet. Then I ended up in Andersonville, which I think is an amazing neighborhood, but then I wanted it even quieter. So then I ended up in North Park. My wife works at Swedish Covenant – the location doesn't matter as much to me because I'm driving all over the place or jumping on the plane – but for her it was a mile away from our home.  

And we just fell in love with the neighborhood. It took one walk around the neighborhood because it's quiet and it's calm and there's just a serenity to North Park that we like. It has just enough wonderful businesses that we don't feel like we're in the middle of nowhere. You know, the strip of Bryn Mawr and the strip of Foster each have these gems that we like. So it keeps us really happy. 


. . . There is kind of a rainbow of ethnic cultures within the neighborhood and everyone just seems unfazed by it, you know? I've traveled enough to experience and see different versions of racism or different versions of bigotry. But here, everybody just treats everyone like people. When my daughter started bringing friends over, it would look like the United Nations, and I think it's made her a stronger character because she's experienced different cultures.


[Who are you singing with in that picture to the left of the Beatles poster?]  

That is my dad. I sang with him for quite a few years. He was in a group called the Enchanting Enchanters. Back in the 60s, you made a record and kind of threw it against the wall to see if it would stick and they didn't really do very well, so you know . . . to the steel mill he went. But later in life when he put together his band, I was a little kid and got to watch. And that was my first musical schooling. I was lucky enough to sing with him for almost a decade when I was just fresh out of college.  


But the first song that they recorded, which I think was on the same original label as the Jackson Five, ended up doing well in Europe. So now his song is on all these compilations in Europe where they seem to just soak up obscure soul music out there, and now it's crossed over here. So I let him know last year, “You're on Spotify! You're on iTunes!” And his old song has easily lapped anything I've done. I'm releasing all this music and this thing he did in ‘68 is bigger than anything I've ever done. It's called “No One in This World.”

Robby Celestin was interviewed by a neighbor in July of 2023. You can see a sample of his music here.

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