John Roberts

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A highly sought-after drummer, John “Lil’ John” Roberts thrives in the industry as the ultimate heartbeat.

John, native of Philadelphia, quickly became noted as a child prodigy playing alongside Christian McBride and Joey DeFranceso at the age 16. The trio was part of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, a project created and directed by Wynton Marsalis, comprised of the country’s 22 best young jazz musicians. In 2020, the trio had a reunion residency including Kurt Rosenwinkel at the Blue Note.

With a full scholarship at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts in 1991, John studied for two years and started his touring career with hip-hop artists DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (Will Smith). From there, he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where he started recording and touring with Dionne Farris, Xscape, Monica, The Goodie MOB, and Joi. At the request to fill in for Jonathan Moffett, John began touring with Janet Jackson at the age of 23 and continued to tour with her for two decades. In his downtime, John gives back to up-and-coming youth musicians through teaching private lessons, workshops, camps, masterclasses, live performances, and mentorship.

Having toured and recorded numerous records with George Howard, he was sought after in the contemporary jazz circuits by the great George Duke and began working with him and Rachelle Ferrell and others like George Benson, Patti Austin, James Ingram, Bob Baldwin, Boney James, Eric Essix, Everette Harp, Gabriela Anders, Gerald Albright, Herbie Hancock, Kirk Whalum, Jeff Lorber, Jonathan Butler, Najee, Peter White, Rachelle Ferrell, and Rick Braun. John recorded and co-produced Walter Beasley’s album Going Home. In 2014, he joined Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life tour.

After writing and producing with various artists, and his own band, The Chronicle, John concentrated on his personal debut project entitled The Heartbeat, released in 2014. The album features Stokley of Mint Condition, Eric Robertson, Robert Glasper, Anthony David, and many other artists. In 2019, Lil John recorded a project with former Berklee bandmate, bassist Richie Goods—the album, My Left Hand Man, was dedicated to the great Mulgrew Miller and was supported by a tour nationally and overseas.

Career Highlights
  • Drummer for Janet Jackson, George Duke, Stevie Wonder, George Benson, George Howard, Rachelle Ferrell, Jonathan Butler, DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, Lucy Pearl, Ne-Yo, Norman Brown, and Kirk Whalum
  • Berklee College of Music scholarship
  • National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts grant
  • Grammy Award for Best Jazz Album for Just Chillin with Norman Brown
In Their Own Words

"I want students to come away with how to be successful in the music business."

"I have toured and recorded with some of the greatest artists and musicians in the world, and being able to teach what it takes to do that is very valuable to any student that I teach. They get to learn firsthand the tools that will help them succeed in the real, professional world."