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Meet the Asbury Park Musican: Robert Lee Watt

Updated: Aug 16, 2023

Did you know that the French Horn is universally considered to be one of the hardest orchestral instruments to master? When children join their school band and are allowed to choose an instrument, many gravitate to popular instruments such as the trumpet or the saxophone. But Asbury Park native Robert Lee Watt wanted something different. Although his father was an esteemed trumpet player, and was pressured to follow in his father’s footsteps, Watt gravitated to a different and uncommon instrument: the French Horn. Remarking that the instrument “gave him chills,” Watt pursued the French Horn despite being pressured by both his school band director and his father to quit, saying that playing the French Horn was not an appropriate instrument for him based on racial stereotypes of that time. This did not phase Watt, as his skill on the instrument was improving rapidly. This led him to eventually prove both his father and his band director wrong by auditioning for and getting into many elite bands and orchestras across New Jersey. After graduating high school in Asbury Park, Watt’s musical journey would continue at the New England Conservatory of Music, where he would major in music and study the French Horn under Harry Shapiro of the Boston Symphony. After College, in 1970, Watt was accepted into the Los Angeles Philharmonic, becoming the first African-American French Hornist to be hired by a major symphony orchestra in the United States. Watt would hold his position for 37 more years, eventually retiring in 2007. During this time, Watt was able to play with world- renowned players such as Yo-Yo Ma, Stevie Wonder, Bon Jovi, Elton John, John Williams and many more. If you’d like to know more about Robert Lee Watt, you can read more about his musical experiences both growing up in Asbury Park and playing the LA Philharmonic here: and — written by Ahan Iyer


About the Author

Hi! I’m Ahan Iyer, a high school student from Holmdel, New Jersey. My interests include playing the oboe, jazz and chess. I’m a classically trained oboist, but have become interested in exploring various aspects of jazz, including jazz history and jazz composition for the oboe. Apart from exploring the jazz oboe, I play and teach chess. I’m currently working on a research project where I analyze data sets to find patterns that help us understand the wider influences that jazz has globally.

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