Singer Robert Hicks helped popularize the Atlanta blues during its formative period. Given the name ‘Barbecue Bob’ by Columbia Records, Hicks had numerous hit songs during his career.
Hicks was born to a family of sharecroppers in Georgia. At a young age, Hicks along with his brother, Charley, and other boys in the neighborhood formed a music group. After performing with the group for several years, Robert Hicks was the first to leave and branch out on his own.
In 1926, Hicks was working at Tidwell’s Barbecue Place in Buckhead, Georgia. He caught the attention of Columbia’s talent scout Don Hornsby and was soon recording for the company. Hornsby made publicity photographs of Hicks in chef’s whites and devised the moniker Barbecue Bob, to put on Hicks’ first Columbia record, “Barbecue Blues,” recorded in Atlanta on March 25, 1927. Over the years, Hicks was a big hit. He consistently outsold every artist on the Columbia race series except Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, and Blind Willie Johnson.
Hicks was later joined by his brother Charley, who performed on four of his records. The pair recorded on November 9, 1927 (“It Won’t Be Long Now Parts 1 & 2”) and was introduced as Barbecue Bob and Laughing Charley. Robert Hicks died from pneumonia complicated by tuberculosis in 1931, he was 29 years old. After the death of his brother, Charley Hicks gave up performing and turned to alcohol and crime.