Born in Denison, Texas, Robert Owens grew up in Berkeley, California. His first piano teacher was his mother, and, by the age of 15, Owens had already composed a piano concerto and premiered the work with the Berkeley Young People's Symphony Orchestra.
Owens served in the military and followed his service with studies and performances throughout Europe. He returned to the United States in 1957 to accept a position at Albany State College. This year also marks the beginning of his serious compositional output.
After meeting Langston Hughes during this time, Owens began to devote himself to setting Hughes' poetry to music, with more than 45 settings of Hughes in Owens' oeuvre today.
While in the United States, Owens stayed connected to his musical colleagues in Europe. Many of his songs, especially his Langston Hughes settings, became popular among singers overseas, especially in Germany.
Source: Liner Notes to Darryl Taylor's recording "Fields of Wonder: Songs and Spirituals of Robert Owens" (Albany Records)