Former music manager discusses life in the entertainment business

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Robert Redfield COURTESY OF ROBERT REDFIELD
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VASHTI HARRIS/STAFF
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Robert Redfield COURTESY OF ROBERT REDFIELD
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VASHTI HARRIS/STAFF
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EAST BRUNSWICK–Having rubbed shoulders and personally managed many notable musical talents, Robert Redfield, 97, reminisces on his experiences as an entertainment manager.

By creating the Redfield Agency, Redfield said he was a one-man manager and booker who was responsible for booking numerous musical main attractions in countless clubs throughout New Jersey, New York and nationally.

Before becoming an East Brunswick resident, Redfield said he grew up in a private exclusive village in Larchmont, New York, and in 1932 he was diagnosed with polio.

After his diagnosis, Redfield said he and his family moved from their home in New York to Colts Neck after doctors recommended his family move to New Jersey where the health conditions were better.

Redfield said his mother, Tess Redfield, was a Ziegfeld Follies showgirl and his godmother was the famous actress and singer Fanny Brice, whose life was portrayed in the 1968 film “Funny Girl.”

Wanting to attend Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, Georgia, Redfield said his mother contacted the academy and made a special appeal to the academy’s President General Sandy Beaver who ultimately admitted him.

Redfield said he is the only known cadet in the country to have ever attended any academy with polio while walking with the aid of crutches.

Using swimming as an activity to stay in shape, Redfield said during his time at the academy he would almost daily visit Georgia Tech’s pool while on the academy’s swim team.

After attending New York University, Redfield said his first job was working in the newsroom for the Asbury Park Press as a reporter in 1944, where he was paid $18 per week.

At 24 years old, Redfield said he also started a successful trucking firm in New Jersey. He said his trucking company brought all the industry roofing to the Ford assembly plant on Route 1 in Edison, as well as other locations including Delaware for DuPont.

Despite his other business ventures, Redfield said throughout the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s he personally managed, worked with and booked numerous big name attractions, some of whom were musicians and some of whom were not.

While booking attractions in New Jersey, Redfield said, “We were well involved in Newark, New Jersey. Actually a guy by the name of Richie Boiardo … controlled that whole area completely and under him was Abner ‘Longy’ Zwillman who controlled all of the cigarette machines and vending machines that was under the control of the underworld and the mob.”

Redfield claimed Boiardo was a powerful mob boss who controlled the politics and entertainment in Newark, the rest of Essex County and elsewhere.

“[The mob] always needed me because of my knowledge of entertainment and as far as clubs were concerned they controlled 90% of all the taverns, bars and big restaurants, including one of the big places that I had a lot to do with, which was the Copacabana in New York, and Lou Walters’ Latin Quarter.”

Redfield said he individually managed soul singers and former Temptations members David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks and Dennis Edwards who were responsible for singing the vocals in all of the group’s hit songs.

Long after Ruffin, Kendricks and Edwards left The Temptations at different points in time, Redfield said he put them together for a show so they could perform their Temptation show; however, they could not use The Temptations name because former member Ottis Williams owned the trademark to the group’s name. So, they called the show “Ruffin, Kendricks and Edwards, former lead singers of The Temptations.”

When asked who were the favorite musicians he managed, Redfield said, “It’s obvious that [Ruffin, Kendricks and Edwards] are my favorite because they are who they are and I could write just a book alone about David Ruffin who was wanted all over for drugs and stuff like that. I was up a little over 24 hours a day to make sure that [I knew] where he was and how he was doing.”

Redfield continued to say that, “David Ruffin was different, he was exceptionally special and to me, he was as great as an artist if there ever was. Whether it was two people in an audience or 20,000 he would hold them spellbound. He was an amazing performer and singer, but he was what he was … and he was wanted throughout the country because of the fact that he was on drugs.”

Redfield said he also personally managed The Main Ingredient singer Cuba Gooding Sr., who are known for “Everybody Plays the Fool.”

Some of the big name attractions he booked, worked with, and/or managed included: the Isley Brothers, Sly and the Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix, Mitch Ryder, Jackie Wilson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles, the Young Rascals, Tom Jones, The Four Seasons, the Detroit Wheels and many other musical attractions.

Currently writing an autobiography describing his experiences being in the entertainment business, Redfield said, “I look back at the interests I have had, I can’t believe what I am reading because I can’t believe what I have done, how I’ve done and the way I’ve done it, which is an unbelievable story. … In this case, it happens to be an autobiography that isn’t an autobiography, it’s more like an unbelievable novel.”

Redfield resides in East Brunswick with his wife Josephine and their dog, Ginger.
Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.