July 27, 2014

Rhythms of remembrance: Columbia’s ‘Guitar Guru’ honored with free memorial concert on Sunday

Many turned out Sunday to tune in to bands playing in honor of a fellow musician and beloved guitar teacher who died last week.

Many turned out Sunday to tune in to bands playing in honor of a fellow musician and beloved guitar teacher who died last week.

The free concert was held at CJ’s bar along Greene Street in honor of Robert Newton III, who died on July 8 after complications from multiple strokes.

In lieu of a funeral, Newton’s daughter, Chakisse, and his son, Stephaun, invited friends, family and former students to remember their father with the rhythm of guitars, singing and good spirits. The event was hosted by a memorial foundation in Newton’s name and the Five Points Association.

“He said he didn’t want a funeral or a gospel choir, but a celebration of his life,” Chakisse Newton said.

Newton, who played alongside artists such as Dizzy Gillespie, Patti LaBelle and Percy Sledge, taught students guitar lessons for three decades throughout the Columbia area during his career. He taught them to live and play in the moment, something he referred to as “the now.”

“‘The now’ is a music thing and it’s a life thing,” Barret Smith said.

Smith, who grew up in Columbia, is a solo artist in Asheville, and also tours with the Shannon Whitworth Band. He said when you got guitar lessons from Newton you left with a better understanding of life.

“When you went to study with Robert you went to be a better guitar player but you inevitably left being a more full person, who was more capable of not only improvising in music, but improvising in life and being as in touch with the moment and ‘the now’ as possible,” Smith said.

Many of Newton’s former students were there to help provide entertainment for the concert, including Brian Conner from Weaving the Fate.

“He was a huge personality and an influence on everybody’s life,” Conner said. “He was like a football coach teaching guitar players lessons. If you didn’t practice he would get on to you. Without him, I wouldn’t be anything. A lot of people in Columbia wouldn’t.”

Jmichael Peeples, of Columbia, took lessons from Newton for about two years and said people could tell that he had studied under Newton.

“We shared very similar musical taste and style,” Peeples said. “We shared guitar players that we enjoyed listening to like George Benson, a jazz legend. We talked a lot about him.”

Peeples said he also was able to connect with Newton through football.

“He played football, I played football and we both wanted to play for Carolina,” Peeples said. “We both decided to stop playing sports and focus on music. It made music lessons interesting.”

After Newton graduated from Dreher High School, he attended the University of South Carolina and was a running back for the Gamecocks. Newton stopped playing football to pursue his passion for music, studying classical guitar at the Guitar Institute of Technology, now known as the Musicians Institute, in California.

Stephaun Newton said many have reached out to him through Facebook to thank him for sharing his father with them.

“He was a father not only to me and my siblings, but a father figure for his students in a lot of ways,” Newton said. “He left the town with extremely talented and passionate individuals. Not only in music, but living life without fear and living life with their own internal compass.”

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