Primarily known as an actor, principally for his six years in the role of Adam Cartwright on the television series Bonanza,
' musical activities were largely an outgrowth of that program.
and in motion pictures as the setting (and source of exteriors) for director Jean Renoir's first English-language film, the haunting 1941 rural morality tale Swamp Water.
After dropping out of college and stints as a butcher and forest ranger, among other occupations, Roberts
made it to New York and began establishing himself on the stage in the mid- to late '50s. He got to Hollywood in 1958 with a key role in the movie Desire Under the Elms and was cast in Bonanza the following year. Though he was never known as a singer, Roberts
participated in albums of folk and Western songs as an adjunct of Bonanza, cutting a trio of songs ("In the Pines," "Early One Morning," "Abilene") on the Bonanza
album. The accompaniment on that album included Joe Maphis
, Billy Strange
, and Earl Palmer.
In 1963, Roberts
recorded a folk album entitled Come All Ye Fair and Tender Ladies
for RCA-Victor (the recording arm of NBC, which produced Bonanza) that gave him a chance to use his gentle baritone to excellent effect on songs such as "Shady Grove," "They Call the Wind Mariah," and the Leadbelly
standard "Sylvie." The album was not a big seller, but it has held up better than most of the rest of the recordings issued in association with the series. (Lorne Greene
had the biggest success of all the Bonanza cast, with the number one single "Ringo" in early 1964 and a brace of albums to his credit).
After leaving the series, Roberts
' music activities were confined to dinner theater performances of Camelot and other plays that require a rich baritone. He also did appearances in dramatic and comedic roles on series such as The Name of the Game and The Odd Couple, and later starred in the series Trapper John, M.D. for seven years in the 1980s.