Magnet Cove native finds keys to happiness

By Lisa Burnett Originally Published January 27, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated January 25, 2013 at 10:01 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: Rusty Hubbard

Magnet Cove native Susan Erwin, reflected in a mirrored wall at one of her local gigs, is a keytarist who has performed all over the world.

Magnet Cove native finds key to happiness

Susan Erwin, a Magnet Cove native, has been playing the piano since she was six years old. She has performed all over the world and is recording an album this year. (By Rusty Hubbard)
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After three years of working as an engineer, Susan Erwin is finally doing what she loves full time: performing on stage.

Erwin, a Magnet Cove native who frequently plays at Willy D’s Piano Bar in Little Rock, is a performer who specializes in playing the keytar.

“[The keytar] is from the ’80s — the first one you would probably think of [is a song by] maybe Cher, or some very synth-heavy ’80s rock,” Erwin said.

The instrument is a piano with a modulator and a controller, and the player is able to simulate other instruments. The keytar can be strapped to the person and played like a guitar.

Erwin graduated from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway in December 2002 with a pure mathematics degree. She went on to work as a radio-frequency engineer for Alltel in Little Rock, and it was then that she started going to Willy D’s Piano Bar in downtown Little Rock with her friends.

After seeing the dueling-piano act at the Little Rock bar, Erwin said she had never seen a girl do the dueling piano act and thought she should give it a try.

“I asked to start taking [piano] lessons when I was 6, and then my mother found me a teacher,” Erwin said. “I have about 10 years of classical piano training.”

She said she likes to play the piano for people but had never sung for an audience. After mustering up the courage, Erwin asked to perform at the bar that she enjoyed frequenting. She trained with the piano players at the bar and began performing at Willy D’s, in addition to her corporate job at Alltel.

She performed at the bar for about a year, then decided she would make a career out of it.

“I always enjoyed the stage, but never in my wildest dreams did I think I would end up as a professional musician,” Erwin said. “That was about 9 1/2, 10 years ago.”

Erwin said she chose the keytar because she was trying to brand herself when she first started out.

“It makes me more marketable, and I can travel with [my keytar],” Erwin said. “It’s fun to get away from the piano and be mobile.”

After performing at Willy D’s for about a year, she moved to Branson,Mo., for a year, to Los Angeles for a year and a half, then to Las Vegas. After her stint in Vegas, Erwin embarked on a worldwide tour.

“What I saw was a really cool career path for myself,” Erwin said. “I was able to pave my way into something that was very unique.”

She traveled all over the United States, to the Caribbean and to Europe. Along that path, Erwin has found a love for traveling, trekking by herself to her performances.

In March, Erwin will start working with a program called Half My Tips Go to Charity, which she heard about from a fellow performer, Bob Barron, who has been taking part in the program for about two years.

“I’ve not done it yet, but I’m going to start on March 1,” Erwin said. “I think other musicians should do this [because] a lot of our income comes from tips.”

What Erwin said Barron has found is that patrons are more willing to give when they know what their money is going toward. Erwin said the first charity she will work with is the Wounded Warriors Project, which helps injured service members aid and assist each other.

Erwin will spend the month of March doing interviews in St. Maarten to get the word out about the project and the mission of the charity.

One of Erwin’s lifelong dreams will come true in fall 2013 when an album of her original songs will be released.

“I’ve been writing since I was little,” Erwin said. “It’s kind of a bucket-list thing for me.”

In her dueling pianos and solo career, Erwin primarily plays covers, but she said that in 2013, she will perform more of her original songs.

More information on Susan Erwin can be found on her website: Erwin’s next performance in Arkansas will be at Willy D’s in Fayetteville on Feb. 21.

Staff writer Lisa Burnett can be reached at (501)244-4307 or

Online News Editor Lisa Burnett can be reached at

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