Friday, September 30, 2011

Hiphopobit: Sylvia Robinson

Syliva Robinson, who co-owned Sugar Hill Records, has died.

Starting out in music as a singer in the 50s, Sylvia was half of the duo Mickey & Sylvia, who wrote and recorded their own work. Love Is Strange is one of theirs:

Love Is Strange was a massive hit; it crossed over into the main Billboard charts and, more lucratively, was covered by a rich mix of acts. Buddy Holly, Bo Diddley and The Everly Brothers had a go, but more surprisingly, so did Johnny Thunders and Patti Palladin:

After marrying Joe Robinson in 1968, the former Miss Sylvia Vanterpool added label owner to a range of recording, producing and writing credits, co-founding All Platinum Records. Although relatively tiny, All Platinum made some glorious contributions to the early 1970s - Shame Shame Shame from Shirley And Company was on the label - but started to struggle after audaciously buying Chess Records out of bankruptcy.

While running the label and producing, Syliva - by now working as a solo singer - also found the space to have her biggest hit, the proto-French-Kiss Pillow Talk.

But, arguably, her greatest contribution was still to come. By now in charge at Sugar Hill Records, Sylvia saw hip-hop happening in New York clubs and was among the first to bring it to a wider audience. As the LA Times recalls:

"She saw where a DJ was talking and the crowd was responding to what he was saying, and this was the first time she ever saw this before," her son Joey said in a 2000 interview with NPR. "And she said, 'Joey, wouldn't this be a great idea to make a rap record?'"

It turned out she was right. After gathering three rappers — Master Gee, Wonder Mike and Big Bank Hank — to record the 15-minute song, the party groove became a sensation. The condensed version was considered the first rap song to get radio play and reached the top 40 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart.
Sugar Hill Records would go on to offer a home to Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five, amongst others.

The label ended badly - a deal with MCA went sour, and Sugar Hill stuttered to a halt in 1986, but not before they'd added the invention of the cassingle to the list of their accomplishments.

Sylvia Robinson was 71; she died from congestive heart failure in New Jersey.