Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

Cushney Roberts ’76 (aka Robert Cushnie) in the audience performing with Spectrum. On stage are (left to right) Pierre Jovan, David Prescott, and Darryl Grant. (Photo by Wendy Rountree)

Profile: Cushney Roberts ’76
Engineer-turned-vocalist heats up the stage

On a recent evening at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, with the 70-piece Philadelphia Pops Orchestra backing him up, Cushney Roberts ’76 (aka Robert Cushnie) leaped off the stage while singing lead vocals of the O’Jays’ song “Backstabbers (They Smile in Your Face).” As he worked the audience, shaking hands and belting out the words to a crowd of thousands, the other three members of Roberts’ group, Spectrum, sang and danced in sync behind him in brilliant white suits.

Afterwards, in the lobby, as Roberts signed CDs while discreetly wiping the show’s sweat from his brow, one might think there must be an easier way for a 53-year-old civil engineer to make a living, but certainly, no way that would be more fun.

“Never,” says Roberts when asked if he misses the engineering job he left 24 years ago to pursue his heart’s desire, a full-time performance career.

Spectrum (spectrumsings.com), a Motown and R&B tribute group that he founded in 1995, have portrayed the Four Tops and other acts at large Vegas venues, casinos around the country, and in Europe. Two years ago, the group began performing for Royal Caribbean cruise lines around the world — as many as a dozen gigs a year — and most recently, began playing with Pops orchestras across the country. Spectrum has won the prestigious Best of Las Vegas award two years running.

After graduating from Princeton, where he played with classmates Michele Clark ‘76 and David McCormick ’76 in a trio, Quiet Fire, he went on to work for General Electric and other corporations. But he couldn’t shake the music bug. Roberts, who has been singing since age 5 when he was a member of a church choir in his native East Orange, N.J., worked his corporate jobs while moonlighting in clubs and theaters. It was a grueling schedule of up to seven vocal shows a week. In 1984, after a layoff, Roberts decided to pursue his dream fulltime, and in 1987, he and his late wife, Morgan Bray-Cushnie, moved to the live entertainment capital of the world, Las Vegas.

In Vegas, Roberts was dubbed “The Ivy League Crooner” after gigs on the famous Strip doing songs by Sinatra and similar artists. Through the years, Roberts did everything from portraying a bass player in a production of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” to blowing trombone for a band that played MC Hammer songs, to a guest appearance on the Phil Donahue Show.

Does Roberts, now married to Wendy Rountree-Cushnie and a step-grandad, have any plans to hang up his sparkling suit for a more sedate lifestyle?

“I won’t be one of those guys who dies on stage, although it makes for a good headline,” he quips, noting that producing other musicians’ shows is more likely his future. P

By Alicia Brooks Waltman

Alicia Brooks Waltman is a writer in Hopewell, N.J.