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 Kirk Rosenwinkel at the Blue Note.
Under full scholarship at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts in 1991, John studied for 2 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 Moffet, John began touring with Janet Jackson at the age of 23 and continued to tour with her for two decades.
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 he and Rachelle Ferrell and others like George Benson, Patti Austin, James Ingram, Bob Baldwin, Boney James, Erik Essix, Everette Harp, Gabriela Anders, Gerald Albright, Herbie Hancock, Kirk Whalum, Jeff Lorber, Jonathan Butler, Najee, Peter White, Rachelle Ferrelle, and Rick Braun. John recorded and co-produced Walter Beasley’s album “Going Home”.
His extensive list of credits include work with: Al Green, Anita Baker, Anthony Hamilton, B.B. King, BeBe and CeCe Winans, Bilal, Bruce Parham, Common, Dave Chappelle (Juke Joint Tour), Dionne Farris, Earth, Wind & Fire, Elton John, Erykah Badu, Frank McComb, India.Arie, Joss Stone, Jamie Foxx, Jill Scott, Juanita Bynum, Kindred, Lucy Pearl, Mary J. Blige, Janet Jackson (Janet Tour, Velvet Rope Tour, Rock Witchu Tour, Unbreakable World Tour, and State of the World Tour), Michael Jackson, Mos Def, Musiq Soulchild (Jus Lisen Tour 2001 Music Director), Ne-Yo (Live in Concert, Red Tour 2012-2014), Paula Abdul, Patti Labelle, Prince, Queen Latifah, Quincy Jones, Raphael Saadiq, Russell Gunn, Sheila E., Snoop Dogg, Stevie Wonder (Songs in the Key of Life tour), The Time, TLC, Yolanda Adams, Capital Jazz Festival George Duke Tribute featuring Stanley Clarke, NDugu Chancellor, Jose Davis, Al Jarreau, Marcus Miller, Byron Miller, Jeffrey Osborne, Dianne Reeves, Fred Yonnet, Dave Chappelle, Seal, Keyon Harrold, and more who continue to seek out Lil John for a variety of performances.
His television credits include: houseband drummer for the Monique Show, Queen Latifah Show, Ray Charles Tribute (Live at the Staples Center), Tribute to Quincy Jones, American Idol, American Music Awards, Black Music Honors Show, MTV Music Awards, Billboard Awards, Image Awards, Trumpet Awards, VH1 Fashion Awards, BET Soultrain Awards, Jay Leno, David Letterman, Chris Rock Show, Oprah, Ellen Degeneres, Good Morning America, Good Day Atlanta, Jimmy Kimmel, Arsenio Hall, The View, Saturday Night Live, Pre Grammy Show, several seasons of BET’s Sundays Best, Apollo Live, BET Comicview, Stevie Wonder’s “A House Full of Toys” Tribute and more.
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 Roberson, Robert Glasper, Anthony David, and many other artists.
In 2019, Lil John recorded a project with former Berklee bandmate, bassist Richie Goods, with an album dedicated to the great Mulgrew Miller called “My Left Hand Man” which was supported by a tour nationally and overseas.