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The Cowboyway Article

LeeLee Robert - The Cowboy Way Article (Jun 2, 2014)

The following cover story written by Jason Borisoff appears in the September/October issue of Making Music magazine:

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While hiking in the wilderness near her home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Lee Robert came across a bear. “They’re more afraid of you than you are of them,” she says. “They say that when you come across a bear, you’re supposed to be very calm and slowly walk away, talking softly.” Running across a bear in the wilderness is not an easy situation to handle calmly, but Robert discovered that she has an additional fear reaction to fight or flight: rapping. “I started saying this mantra, ‘I’m cool, you’re cool, we’re cool, yo bear!’” she says. The bear ran away, and Robert went on to write a song (not rap, though) called “Yo Bear.”

Leelee Magazine CoverRobert, who prefers to go by the stage name LeeLee, has a ton of songs like that from a lifetime of songwriting—songs about all kinds of situations and daily occurrences, like love and the simple pleasures of life. Lately, however, LeeLee has written more of her songs about the great outdoors. “I wrote a song about Wyoming, Arizona, and the sky islands, which are really mountains,” she says. “It’s inspiring.”

It’s no coincidence that LeeLee and her husband Rick Flory operate a conservation foundation called Earth Friends. But it wasn’t always this way. Both Flory and LeeLee have spent a lifetime chasing their dreams and coming to a place where they can both live out their passions as social and environmental contributors—Flory through his work as a conservationist, and LeeLee as a performer and songwriter.

Speaking Through Music
Though LeeLee has fond memories of singing and writing music early in her life, and even won a recording contract and a week’s engagement at Arizona’s Shrunken Head Coffeehouse at 16, she decided early on that writing music was not a sustainable way to earn her living. “I would say that my first career was as a musician,” says LeeLee. “But at a certain time, I decided that I needed to expand what I was doing.”

After watching a public speaker incorporate music into her talk, LeeLee realized that she could use music in other careers. She teamed up with her father, Cavett Robert, founder of the National Speaker’s Association, and devoted 12 years of her life to public speaking. “I always used my music, either at the end, or sometimes the middle, of the presentation,” she says. “Oftentimes I would write a song for the group that I was speaking to, so that was something that really encouraged my writing.”

Chasing Down a Dream
Cavett passed away in 1997. He was in his 90s and left behind a legacy as a giant in his field. “After he passed away, public speaking wasn’t as much fun anymore, and I started to miss my music a lot,” she says. She continued to work in the public speaking business, but began looking forward to the day when she could rededicate herself to writing and performing music.

In 1999, the first step to that realization fell into place when she met her future husband. Flory had a similar dream, to one day sell his Domino’s Pizza franchise and work full-time with his foundation, Earth Friends Conservation Fund. “He kept asking me to join him in his work, but I figured I’d better get to know him pretty well before he became my boss,” she jokes. “So after about three years of him asking me, I gave it a try.” In 2003, both Flory and LeeLee sold their businesses and devoted themselves full-time to their respective passions.

Back to Roots
Since making the decision to sell her business, LeeLee has been living out her dream as an artist and musician. She writes more than she ever has, and with the great outdoors in her backyard, she is never at a loss for inspiration. Her greatest motivation, however, comes from performing her music. “I hadn’t actually been performing,” she explains. “I started performing again, and it gave me a spark to get back into my music. I started singing some of the songs that I wrote again, and hearing that applause and having the appreciation of the audience fueled me. I found, for me, music has to have someone to appreciate it. Unless I have someone who enjoys listening to the performance, or my CDs, it’s like a circle that has not yet been completed.”

LeeLee’s five CDs, recorded during this time, are a testament to her homecoming as a musician. She is especially proud of her latest work, entitled Best of Friends. “Every song is handpicked from the previous four CDs, which were informally recorded. We used to give them away to people who supported Earth Friends,” she says. “This is the first CD that I’ve done that you can get on iTunes, Amazon, and on my website. It makes me proud to have something like that to give people.”

Cowgirl Jazz
LeeLee with GuitarIn returning to a musical life, LeeLee stumbled across something that the greatest musicians in the world are constantly seeking: a unique musical voice. Having a cohesive musical voice is a symbol of strength, creativity, and artistic integrity, and in the last year, LeeLee has been feeling more confident in a style she appropriately dubs “cowgirl jazz.”

“Things simmer for a while, and then they grow, like a flower, and they have everything they need to grow,” she says. “Somehow, my cowgirl jazz style started coming very easily to me last year. I would take some of the old Western tunes that were popular, that people wanted to hear, by singers like Loretta Lyn, Patsy Cline, Tammy Wynette, and somehow I found myself putting jazz chords to them, and putting together jazz arrangements. I really didn’t think that much of it, but then people started coming up to me and saying that they really liked my cowgirl jazz. It was really cool.”

Throughout her life, LeeLee has been attracted to a lot of different styles of music, particularly jazz, folk, and Western music. To her, musical styles are a means to an end. “I look at all the kinds of music there is out there as tools in a toolbox, and the whole idea is to reach down deep inside someone and open their heart,” she says.

LeeLee has always been drawn to strong female singers, like Mary Travers, Billie Holiday, Patsy Cline, and especially Bonnie Raitt. “She has this gutsy, powerful, bluesy, charismatic way about her that thrills me,” says LeeLee. “I thought, wow, maybe I could play some rock ‘n’ roll and some blues and really shout it out.” In her formative years, LeeLee craved strong female role models, and found them in the powerful styles of those early pioneers. Now, she passes this strength forward to younger generations of women singers through her work in the Arizona organization Chicks with Picks.

“What we try to do is to mentor other women to put no limits on their music,” she explains. “It isn’t just about pretty music, it’s about a whole range of human emotion to touch people in powerful ways. Bringing in blues, jazz, and rock helps to express that whole range.”

Giving Back
Great songwriters have the ability to capture feelings and truth in music. They keep their senses and their hearts open, watching, waiting, and pursuing opportunities to share their sources of inspiration with others through song. LeeLee is very aware of this, and through her work with Earth Friends, she has more than enough intellectual and emotional fodder to sustain her creativity. With the natural environment at stake, LeeLee uses her music to spread awareness of the Earth Friends agenda, while also allowing her conservation efforts to inspire her music. “Whatever it is you’re trying to say, it has to be something that fuels you, and that you feel passionate about,” she says.

LeeLee has recorded six CDs. Her latest, Western Stars, is available on iTunes and CdBaby.com.

Making Music (Oct 10, 2011)

Conservation Interview

Conservationist Musician Celebrates Wild Full Version PDF File 

Conservationist Musician Celebrates Wild

The Conversation of Conservation

By Nick Morgan

Rick Flory has gone from selling pizza to selling passion for the environment, and he brings with it the same enthusiasm he’s brought to all his endeavors—from building the nation’s second-largest Domino’s Pizza franchise to taking photographs of the great outdoors.Taggart Lake

His Earth Friends Wildlife Foundation promotes “conversations about conservation,” as Flory’s wife, Lee Robert, puts it. Earth Friends funds protective efforts through challenge grants awarded to more than 85 conservation and wildlife protection groups.

Flory and Robert’s environmental partnership began 10 years ago with a chance conversation. “It was suggested to me by a friend that I attend a specific  church in Phoenix, Arizona,” Flory remembers. “When I got to the church, I looked around and noticed an empty seat by a pretty brown-haired girl. We got to talking and discovered we both liked thin-crust pizza.”

It’s a relationship based on more than just thin-crust, however. They share a love for the arts—photography for Flory, music for Robert. And both have “a great appreciation for the Native American way of living in harmony with the land . . . [and] similar philosophical and spiritual values as well as entrepreneurial values,” Robert says.

Flory founded Earth Friends in 1996 with the thought of a second life’s career after Domino’s Pizza. “Rick talked about the Foundation and his dreams for it almost immediately,” Robert recalls. Although Flory asked her to become executive director, Robert instead volunteered her help with administrative work, which allowed her to continue with her communications and public speaking business. She took on the executive director’s job three years later.

The couple sold their individual businesses on the same day in 2002 to devote themselves full time to Earth Friends as a second career; they married three years later. Flory continues to run the foundation single-handedly with Robert’s help, and likes to show their enthusiasm and commitment by meeting with each partner individually. “Rick has come to realize that the real work often gets accomplished when you are meeting face-to-face with a partner organization,” Robert says.

That dedication has paid off—what began as 36 partnerships has since grown to 85. A good attitude and a seemingly inexhaustible amount of enthusiasm allows Rick to meet with each partner twice during the year. “This is fun and important work!” Robert says cheerily. “We are both very passionate about the environment.”Wildlife

Their efforts, however, do not stop at just making grants. “In addition to conservation groups, we try to raise our visibility as much as possible through public speaking to civic clubs, newsletters, music concerts, and involvement with organizations that are not specifically focused on conservation: Toastmasters, National Speakers Association (which was founded by Robert’s father, Cavett Robert), Book Clubs, Artist and Writers Group, and church,” explains Robert.

Their newsletter, which the Foundation sends to all its partners, friends, family, and past business contacts, is designed to “engage mainstream America in the very important issues facing all of us with the environment.

“We try to give enough information to whet the appetite,” Robert says, “but not so much that eyes glaze over.”

The couple’s passion for the environment doesn’t keep them just poring over the balance sheets, though. Flory was inspired by a family trip to the national parks in the West when he was 12, and he expresses particular fondness for Grand Teton National Park in western Wyoming. Flory and Robert spend half their time in Jackson, Wyoming, and make a conscious effort to help protect the wildlife and natural beauty of the western-most states.

 “When you consider that most of our partners are required to match our grants in a significant way (our partneBearsrs increase their fundraising capacity!), then Earth Friends Wildlife Foundation is leveraging dollars going to conservation philanthropy somewhere between $6 and $7 million dollars. This is going to over 85 partners who do everything from habitat protection, science research, monitoring, education, fieldwork, and other vital work.

 “Both Rick and I feel that, in addition to the  Great Creator, the environment is our primary sustaining resource,  and stewardship of the planet one of our primary responsibilities.” Robert says. “Clean air, clean water, and healthy landscapes for all of God’s creation will determine our future health as a people and a planet.”

They see their use of challenge grants as helping promote that message. “Conservation currently gets two percent of philanthropy. This will not “cut it” for the challenges in our environment we are currently facing.” “We don’t just support projects, we support organizations to become financially sound. In addition, we give ongoing support. We are not a here-today-and-gone-tomorrow funder; we believe for financial soundness we need to become an ongoing cheerleader for our partners.”

Toward that end Earth Friends encourages those already involved in philanthropy to look at areas of conservation that particularly resonate with them. They also want to encourage the next generation of philanthropists to make the environment a priority.Lee and Rick Honolua Bay

“I no longer sell Pizza, I sell passion,” Flory says. “I sell passion about preserving our planet in such a way that is sustainable for future generations. I sell passion about businesses that take responsibility for the total cost of doing business, and clean up their messes. I sell passion to stockholders and customers who support their businesses practicing social responsibility. I sell passion about the concept of our leaders taking a visionary approach to earning the trust of the American public and ‘doing the right thing’ for future generations.”

Nick Morgan - The Conversation of Conservation (Dec 31, 2013)

The Rodeo of Public Speaking

In this article LeeLee Robert shares stories of her famous father Cavett Robert, the founder of the National Speakers Association and tells how public speaking can be used by musicians to sell their CDs. 

The Western Way is a publication of the Western Music Association. 

Read "The Rodeo of Public Speaking" article in PDF form here.

LeeLee Robert - The Western Way Magazine (Nov 4, 2012)

Like Father Like Daughter

LeeLee Robert relays her history in learning about the art and craft of public speaking and relays the lessons her father, Cavett Robert taught her. LeeLee carries on her father's legacy and makes her own imprint with the tools and talents she has refined.

Read "Like Father Like Daughter" PDF article here.

Monica Wofford - Speaker Magazine (Dec 4, 2012)