Corkey Robinson - He's the Music Man!
LaFalco “Corkey” Robinson’s musical career spans seven decades, several schools, and even the world. He is an integral part not just of Austin’s music scene, but of a generation of jazz and classical composers and performers. His original works have won numerous awards, and his students have gone on to acquire legendary status in Hollywood, New York and elsewhere.
Corkey learned to play around the same time he learned to speak. Born and raised in Cooper in Northeast Texas, he learned mandolin and guitar from his parents at the age of three. “My mother and dad made sure that I started in music,” Corkey remembers. “We did a lot of singing and playing as a family.”
Robinson played saxophone in the marching band all through high school and actually became band director after his band director entered the armed services. Following high school, Robinson came to Austin and auditioned for and was accepted into the Texas Longhorn Band in 1944. His stay in Austin with his aunt, uncle and cousins was short lived as he entered the U.S. Navy School of Music in 1945 which would take him from his Texas roots. As a leading member of the Cruiser Division 15 band, Corkey played in China, Japan, Australia and many more locales in the Pacific Theater.
He returned to UT in 1950 to finish his Bachelor’s degree and also complete a Master’s of Musical education degree. In 1953, Robinson began his career as a music teacher at the elementary school level and then at O’Henry Middle School in 1955. From 1961 to 1988, he served as the orchestra and band director of Stephen F. Austin High School, and it was in this role that he defined himself as a pillar of the community. His many accolades and awards included Teacher of the Year in 1979 and Orchestra Director of the Year in 1986. Governor John Connally selected Corkey’s band to represent Texas at the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans, and his band also played at the dedication of Interstate 35 in Austin in 1962.
According to one former student, Robinson was not merely a teacher but a fine musician. He had the rare ability to communicate with young people, and it was this trait as well as how deeply he cared for his students as individuals that made him so respected.
Corkey taught some of the biggest stars of the 80s and 90s, including Bill Campbell, bass player for Fleetwood Mac; David Montgomery, music consultant to Martin Scorsese; and Ron Brown, former bandleader and arranger for Dianna Ross. His favorite memories from teaching are of students getting their musical start.
Robinson retired from teaching in 1988, but he continued to play regular gigs. His band, Corkey Robinson and the Keynoters, was a smash hit at dances throughout the Austin area. He also played saxophone in a range of other groups from jazz combos to big swing bands.
At Longhorn Village, his current residence, Robinson keeps up his musical pursuits. You can find him every other Thursday in the Cocktail Lounge playing at the piano for “Sip and Sing” and regularly at the Health Care Center. You might also hear his blend of original and classical piano in the library area of the Assisted Living dining room. “I’m glad that they have a piano most everywhere you go,” Corkey chuckled.
The name LaFalco is derived from Corkey’s mother’s employer, Falco Hosiery – she just added the “La.” When a very young Robinson tried to say “coffee,” it sounded like “Corkey.” When his cousins started calling him that, the name stuck.