Robert Whitall Jr. 
April 14, 1948 - April 24, 2024

Acclaimed blues music magazine publisher, photographer, artist and historian Robert Wood Whitall, Jr. of Glen Arbor, MI passed away April 25, 2024 at the age of 76 in the hospice facility AccentCare of Dunedin, FL where he had been a resident for less than a day. Better known as Robert Jr. or Junior, he was born on April 14, 1948, in Ambler, Pennsylvania to Robert W. Sr. and Patricia Whitall. A direct descendent of the founders of Whitall Tatum, one of the first glass factories in the United States, Robert’s family relocated to Michigan during his high school years. During the Vietnam War he served in the Army then studied at Eastern Michigan University upon his discharge.  

A videographer in Detroit during the early rock and roll and punk rock era, Whitall established Detroit Blues Magazine with former Creem Magazine founder Charles Auringer in 1995. At the urging of Buddy Guy, the scope was changed from regional to international and rebranded as Big City Rhythm & Blues Magazine. The magazine won the coveted Keeping the Blues Alive award from The Blues Foundation in 1988 and has been actively ‘keeping the blues alive’ to this day, with Whitall at its helm – and will continue with Auringer and Whitall’s wife, Shirley Mae Owens (aka Sugar), moving forward.  

In 2017 Mr. Whitall was the recipient of a kidney donated by Sugar, whom he married at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park on 9/11/1999.  

A lover of all things New Orleans, Whitall attended his first New Orleans Jazzfest as a driver for the late renowned activist John Sinclair, who at the time was managing recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees MC5. This will be the first time in 40 years that Junior will not be attending this greatest of all music festivals.  

He and Sugar were also regulars on the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise, maintaining a Big City Magazine booth on over 40 cruises since its inception.  

A champion of unknown and underappreciated musicians, he was friend, confidante, promoter and adviser to some of the greatest musicians and personalities who crossed his path within his lifetime, a list too numerous to mention. To this end, Junior and Sugar started a non-profit, Gimme Five, that assisted musicians and music-related individuals during times of need. He was also famous for his ‘intoxicatingly delicious’ cookies – Cooper Snaps – that were craved by his celebrity musical family.  

In spite of declining health over the past decade and a half, Robert Jr. began work as an artist in 2010 during extended hospital stays in Detroit, influenced by Frida Kahlo. His first art exhibit was at the New Orleans Museum of Art during the 2011 Jazz & Heritage Festival. Since that honor, his unique, musician-inspired artwork has been exhibited at various museums and venues around the country.  

In addition to his loving wife Sugar and her mother Patricia M. Owens (who Junior cherished), he is survived by siblings Susan, Scott, Kevin (Emily), nephew Kyle and niece Lauren, Whitall’s all. There are no post-mortem plans at this point in time but friends and fans can reminisce by visiting his Facebook pages, Robert Jr Whitall, and Big City Rhythm & Blues Magazine or his art, photos and publications at The ArtRoom

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