Archer was born Robyn Smith in Prospect, South Australia. She began singing at four years old and singing professionally from 12 years old, everything from folk and pop and graduating to blues, rock, jazz and cabaret. She graduated from Adelaide University and immediately took up a full-time singing career. Archer has a Bachelor of Arts (Honours English) and Diploma of Education from Adelaide University. Archer is openly gay.

In 1974 she sang Annie I in the Australian premiere of Brecht/Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins to open The Space of the Adelaide Festival Centre. She subsequently played Jenny in Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera where she met English translator and editor John Willett. Since then her name has been linked particularly with the German cabaret songs notably songs by Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler and those from the era of the Weimar Republic.

Her one-woman cabaret A Star is Torn (1979) covering various female singers including Billie Holiday and her 1981 show The Pack of Women both became successful books and recordings, the latter also being produced for television in 1986. She played A Star is Torn throughout Australia from 1979 to 1983, and for a year at Wyndham’s Theatre in London’s West End. In 1989 she was commissioned to write a new opera, Mambo, for the Nexus Opera, London. Robyn has continued to sing a wide-ranging repertoire and in 2008/2009 gave a series of concerts including iprotest! ( with Paul Grabowsky) and separate German and French concerts with Michael Morley. All were sell-outs and critically acclaimed.

Robyn has written and devised many works for the stage from The Conquest of Carmen Miranda to Songs From Sideshow Alley and Cafe Fledermaus (directed by Barrie Kosky to open the Merlyn Theatre at the Malthouse in Melbourne). In 2008 her new play Architektin premiered in Adelaide and in 2009 she devised the Tough Nut Cabaret for a production in Pittsburgh USA.

Robyn Archer is also a director of arts festivals in Australia and overseas. Her career took this turn accidentally, with an invitation while she was performing her show Le Chat Noir in Canberra to direct The National Festival of Australian Theatre which was hosted by the national capital. She directed the 1993, 4 and 5 editions and this began a remarkable string of Artistic Director positions at The Adelaide Festival of Arts ( 1998 and 2000), the Melbourne International Arts Festival (2002–2004) . She created Ten Days on the Island, an international arts festival for Tasmania, spent two years as Artistic Director of the European Capital of Culture, and advised on the start-up of Luminato in Toronto.

In 2008 Robyn curated the Deakin Lectures, served as juror for Culture France’s Danses Caribes in Cuba, went to the Australia 2020 Summit, was formal mentor to Arts Mildura, and was juror for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Prize.

She is in frequent demand as a speaker and public advocate of the arts all over the world, and was commentator at the inaugural broadcast Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras for the ABC, Australia. She has been a television guest on The Michael Parkinson Show; Clive James at Home, Good News Week (ABC); Adelaide Festival 1998 (ABC National three-part series), the David Frost New Year Special, The Midday Show, Tonight Live, Review, Dateline, Denton, and Express.

Robyn is an Officer of the Order of Australia, Chevalier du l’Ordre des Arts at des Lettres( France), Officer of the Crown ( Belgium) and holds honorary doctorates from Flinders and Sydney Universities. In 2006 in New York she was awarded the International Citation of Merit by the International Society of Performing Arts and in 2009 the Dame Elizabeth Murdoch Cultural leadership Award for ABAF. She is the Patron of The Australian Art Orchestra ( Melbourne), Brink Productions ( Adelaide), The Australian Script Centre ( Hobart) and The Arts Law Society( Sydney) and most recently co-patron ( with Judge Ian North) of the institute of Postcolonial Studies ( Melbourne), as well as maintaining ties with RMIT’s Globalism Insititute and the International Women’s Development Agency.

Robyn is currently the Creative Director of The Centenary of Canberra ( 2013) and Artistic Director of The Light in Winter which she created for Federation Square in Melbourne . She devised the program for the 5th World Summit on Arts and Culture (Melbourne October 3-6 2011) and advised on the National Gallery of Victoria’s 150th celebrations in 2011. She was recently appointed as Adjunct Professor to the University of Canberra.