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?'"Sugar Hill Records would go on to offer a home to Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five, amongst others.
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.
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.