, Salem, MA

May 19, 2010

Singing custodian scooped up for school concert

By Amanda McGregor

SALEM — John Robinson was going about his business when he was talent-spotted at Salem High School, where he works.

"Just walking around the corridors, I'm occasionally singing a tune while I work," said Robinson, a longtime custodian at the high school.

Cynthia Napierkowski, the high school band director, heard the crooning custodian and tapped him to lend his vocal talent to a school concert.

"He sings while he works, and he has a wonderful voice," Napierkowski said.

Tonight, for the second time, Robinson will trade in his mop for a microphone and sing a solo during the school's annual Pops Concert, which begins at 7:30 p.m.

He will sing "Night and Day" by Cole Porter, accompanied by the high school jazz band.

"I have no problem embarrassing myself," Robinson said with a smile before rehearsal Monday night.

Napierkowski first approached Robinson about five years ago and invited him to sing at the school's holiday concert, where he performed "White Christmas." Five or six months ago, she asked if he would be willing to sing again this spring.

"I submitted three music choices for Mrs. Napierkowski," he said, "and 'Night and Day' was what the band was best suited for."

"I have no formal training," said Robinson, who grew up in Danvers. "No drama club, no chorus." But he's always enjoyed singing.

Robinson and his wife, Cynthia, have four children in the Salem schools: Maria, Sam, Lisa and Gwen. His daughter Maria is a senior at Salem High who will graduate in June. His son, Sam, is a sophomore in the jazz band, so he will be accompanying his father during tonight's performance.

"I think they enjoy it," Robinson said, in reference to his singing. "My daughter Lisa was in 'Bye Bye Birdie' at Collins Middle School this year, and I think she's happy about it."

Tonight's annual Pops Concert will feature the school's concert band, string orchestra, symphony, chorus, chamber choir, jazz ensemble and the a cappella group WitchPitch. George Parks, director of the marching band at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, will also be part of tonight's lineup as a guest conductor and performer with the concert band.

During the concert, refreshments are served in a Boston Pops style with floor seating at candlelit tables.

Robinson, who has been a custodian at Salem High for 17 years, said he typically sings a variety of songs while he works.

"I like a whole mix," said Robinson, 52, who lives in Salem. "It could be American standards like this (Cole Porter song), or rock 'n' roll."

When asked if he sings contemporary music, like pop star Miley Cyrus, his answer was immediate.

"No pop," he said with a laugh.

Staff writer Amanda McGregor can be reached at

Want to go?

What: Salem High School Pops Concert

When: Tonight, 7:30

Where: Salem High School auditorium, 77 Willson St.

Cost: $5 for adults; $3 for students and senior citizens