Rob Mitchell is a born-and-raised Seattlite. Luckily his dad, Bob Mitchell, got a job in the Bellingham area, because while living in a rental house, he discovered a chorus called the Mount Baker Toppers. Rob’s first barbershop performance was when the Mt Baker Toppers invited him on their float in a local parade. He was seven years old.
When the family moved down to Woodinville in 1979, Bob joined the Lake Washington Skippers as they prepared to compete at the 1980 International Competition. Attending the Salt Lake City international convention was a spark for Rob. “I remember lying in my bed at the hotel hearing all of the harmonies of the day ringing on and on in my head. I couldn’t get enough. I also saw the Harrington Brothers Quartet, with 10-year-old David Harrington ( arranger of “I Will”) singing tenor, place in the top 10.” That summer “Robby” joined the Lake Washington Skippers at age 10. Danny Tangarone led the audition in the furnace room at Skipper Hall. Rob already knew all of the Polecats. “My dad gave me his tenor Polecat learning tape and I listened to it all the time.”
Rob’s first performance with the Skippers was the District Contest at the Seattle Opera House, in 1980. Robby stood in the second row because he was too short to stand in the front row. The Skippers won and went on to the Detroit International Contest in 1981. Rob didn’t return to the International stage until after the merger of the Skippers and Northwest Sound in 1990. He sang at International with NWS in 1992, 1993, 1995 and 2009.
In 1985, Rob began bulletin editing, taking over “The Skupper” from long-time editor Dan Daily (who later edited the Harmonizer). “At 15 I was not one to shy from a challenge. Dan showed me how to use a light table and off I went. By my second year, I was Evergreen District Bulletin Editor of the Year.” Soon after I computerized and Ray Steckler joined in. As a team R&R won the district contest regularly and placed as high as fourth in the International Bulletin Contest. Later R&R edited the Timbre for several years, edited the Soundwaves (newsletter of NWS) from 1993 to 1997 and designed most of the NWS show programs from 1992 until 2004.
While editing the Skupper, Rob discovered that the Skippers were about to turn 40, so he volunteered to be historian. The Skippers had an impressive past, placing second in the 1957 International Chorus Contest, and competing at eight additional International contests over the next 23 years. Rob interviewed many of the early members. He helped Coe Wescott index his reel-to-reel recordings of the Skippers. He even wrote a research paper while at the UW called “Barbershop Music and its Origins.”
In 1987, Rob attended Harmony College with his dad and learned about choreography and barbershop history, among other things. They had a father-son chorus at Harmony College that year, and they got to sing “Singin’ Here with Dad” directed by Joe DeRosa (and Rob sang and played ping pong with his son Tony – now 3-time gold medalist). Later, Rob returned to Harmony College on an AIC Scholarship to learn more about choreography and continue to support the Skippers.
After Harmony College in 1987, Rob began coaching the Skippers, which lead to his first of three Barbershopper of the Year awards. The same year Rob and his dad began singing with Jamie Peterson and Kendall Williams. The Rain City Four (#1) was born. You can find RC4(#3) in the “Bill Nye the Science Guy: Science of Music” DVD. RC4(#5) sang with Rob on stage at the 1998 Eugene District Contest (during NWS’s set in the Saturday evening show), when Rob proposed (in song) to his now wife of 16 years, Hannah. So obviously she said yes. RC4(#5) were the groomsmen for Rob & Hannah’s Wedding in 1999.
Kendall and Rob have been “the twins” since their time with the Rain City Four. They worked together many years in choreography and even owned a house together with Rob’s sister, Erika. Kendall was also Rob’s best man.
Rob’s other quartets included Travelling Companions, A Second Opinion, By Request, and Generations (mixed quartet with Hannah and his parents). Rob has received the Al Frazier Novice Quartet Champion Award (highest novice quartet at the International Prelims) twice – with RC4(#2) and ASO. ASO later placed fourth in the district contest.
Rob has also been tenor section leader, bari section leader, board member at large, and Music Vice President (1997 and 1998). He was BOTY for NWS in 1997.
So how does “Joe Barbershopper Jr” disappear for so long? There were many factors, but mostly he wanted to devote more of his time to his wife, Hannah, and his sons, Isaac (10) and Brian (6). Hannah’s mom lived with them for nine years as she struggled with Alzheimer’s. She passed away in 2013.
In 2007, Rob became the choir director at his church, where he has been able to “work” with Hannah, who is a pianist.
Rob’s real job is a programmer/consultant with the family business, Future Software Systems. Bob retired in December 2013, so Erika and Rob have been much busier lately.
“I’ve had many bumps along the road, but I’m glad to be back singing with the Northwest Sound.”