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Photo by Benjamin Stone
Photo by Benjamin Stone
Astoria resident Robyn Adele Anderson of Postmodern Jukebox

Four years ago, Robyn Adele Anderson starred in a YouTube video that launched a music career she never expected.

Anderson, who had recently moved to Astoria and was working at a local immigration office, had her life-changing moment when she saw Scott Bradlee, founder of Postmodern Jukebox, at the Manderley Bar in Manhattan. He was performing pop and hip-hop hits in vintage and ragtime arrangements.

“I was amazed by this world set in the ‘20s and the jazz singers dressed up from the era,” Anderson said. “I just thought it was the coolest thing ever.”

Photo by Benjamin Stone

Bradlee asked Anderson to sing a vintage-style cover of Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” for a YouTube video. The performance was shot by a single camera in one take in a Jersey City apartment.

“I had no idea what I was doing,” Anderson said. “We put it on the channel just hoping it would get a few views and people would like it.”

The video ended up going viral overnight and had a million views within a week. Today, it has more than 14 million views.

Photo via Instagram robynadeleanderson photo by Jack Fluck Photography

Photo by Jack Fluck Photography

Anderson became one of the lead singers for Postmodern Jukebox, a group whose current tagline is “We take pop music back in time.” PMJ started with four people and has become an international entity with rotating singers and musicians.

Photo via Instagram robynadeleanderson photo by Marek Koprowski

Photo by Marek Koprowski

Through PMJ, Anderson has made several television appearances and has traveled worldwide on tour, performing at venues ranging from rock clubs to 3,000-person capacity theaters.

Anderson had always hoped to travel for work, but she imagined she’d do so as a foreign service officer. Although she had a lifelong interest in singing — she participated in band and choir growing up and considered going to college for music — she put it on the back burner to pursue a political science and Arabic major at SUNY Binghamton.

Photo by Benjamin Stone

After graduating, Anderson moved to New York, sometimes doing karaoke and working at ANSOB Center for Refugees. Her chance meeting with Bradlee led to a career switch, and she left her job about two and a half years ago to pursue music full time.

Watching Anderson on YouTube — or better yet, at a live performance — she truly takes songs back in time, until you realize the words she’s singing. This comes partly because she has embraced the fashion, building a collection of period-dresses from stores, including Astoria’s Loveday31 and Diva Boutique, eBay and other retailers.

Anderson said her first love was Broadway show tunes, and she had always wanted to sing like musical theater singers, but she has learned to appreciate her own voice. She spent time listening to the female jazz leaders of the era — Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and her favorite, Judy Garland — to distinguish her own sound.

Photo by Jack Fluck

Photo by Jack Fluck

“I think my voice is a little too unique sounding to do something as mainstream as Broadway,” she said. “Now I realize it’s not my end goal anymore. I think this world is a better fit for my particular voice and style.”

She has had a huge response from fans of all ages and nationalities. The bulk of fans are in their 20s and 30s, but kids and grandparents alike are among PMJ’s online and live audiences, tuning in for the songs and the vintage sound. Jazz enthusiasts also make up the fanbase. While PMJ has a large U.S. following, the group is also popular in Brazil, Mexico, Malaysia and southeastern Europe. Anderson said the Czech Republic surprisingly has the most “insane” fans.

When she’s on tour with PMJ, Anderson usually performs her hits. Some of her favorite songs to perform include “Thrift Shop” — “That was my first one so it holds a special place in my heart,” she explained — and Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop,” another viral hit which she said helped PMJ get to the next level. Some of her other covers include a doo-wop version of Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl,” a bluegrass version of Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” and a Klezmer version of Jason Derulo’s “Talk Dirty.”

She said the group has spent a lot of time trying to figure out if there’s a “secret sauce” to hit songs. The more ridiculous, the better, she said. Covers of songs that everyone really loves or hates, outrageous lyrics, drastic arrangements or covers of “grungy” rock bands are popular.

For the past two and a half years, Anderson has been posting music on her own YouTube channel, where she sings contemporary songs in the style of PMJ and tries other genres with a live band. Working on her own channel, as opposed to performing at PMJ shows, gives her the creative freedom to arrange her own music, improvise with the musicians and, more recently, start writing her own songs.

Photo courtesy of Moonshine over Manhattan

Photo courtesy of Moonshine over Manhattan

Anderson’s specialty for era-style performances has led to other opportunities in Manhattan. Anderson was part of the cast of an immersive 1920s-era theater production, “Speakeasy Dollhouse: Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic,” in 2015, and the next year, “The Flying Doctor” by Molière, a play that infused modern songs with text. In June, she performed her hits with her bandmates at Moonshine over Manhattan, a Prohibition-style craft spirits tasting event hosted on a cruise.

In the next year, she hopes to keep working with PMJ and making her own videos. Her goal is to be able to go on her own tour next year.

When she’s not traveling, Anderson enjoys relaxing in Astoria. She said she tries to eat at every restaurant and patronize local businesses. Her beauty picks are Diva Salon for hair and Rachel’s Nail Salon. While being home is like a vacation, she said she’d like to perform more in New York.

While catching her at a performance in New York is rare, her next local show is a duo with Von Smith on Monday, Dec. 18, at the venue where it all began: the Manderley Bar. If you can’t make it, at least check out some of the singer’s latest uploads on her page — a Christmas song and a Weezer cover.

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