vocalist from Harlem, New
York, who was brought up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,
and made her stage debut at six years of age. At ten, she and her father Bill, an
actor, and her mother Jolly, a singer, moved back to the Apple.
By the time
she was sixteen years old, she was in the Broadway production of Hair. Soon, she was in Soon, a play which featured a young
Richard Gere. The two of them then portrayed
Richard and Mimi Farina off-Broadway in Long
Time Coming, Long Time Gone.
She broke into film in the early ‘70s with small roles in Going Home and To Find a Man, then was back onstage
in Voices from the Third World. She also background vocals on Todd Rundgren’s ambitious 1972 album, Something/Anything?. In 1973, she was back on Broadway in
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus
Christ, Superstar, and visited Japan, eventually collaborating
with Itsuro Shimoda on the
LP, Love Songs and Lamentations.
She was “discovered”
by Warren Schatz, an engineer and producer who heard her sing and thought
she would be a good disco singer.
He asked her to lay down some tracks, such as a cover version of “Baby
Now That I’ve Found You”, which had been a hit for The
Foundations. It did not become
a hit for Vicki, but that did not stop her and Warren from getting to work
on her first long-play record, Never Gonna Let You Go. The album fared okay, reaching #49
on the pop chart and #51 on the black chart, but it was the singles the
album yielded that launched Vicki into the stratosphere. The title track hit the top ten on
the disco chart and “Turn the Beat Around” became an
international hit, going to #10 in the U.S., #11 in The Netherlands, #12 in
South Africa, #14 in Canada, and #44 in France.
sophomore effort, Vicki Sue Robinson,
charted higher than her debut, #39 on the black chart and #45 on the pop
chart, but its singles did not:
Remakes of “Daylight” and “Hold Tight”
reached a meager #61 and #67 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 1978, she released her third
album, Half & Half, and it
didn’t do half so well, peaking at #56 on the black chart and #110 on
the pop chart. She also
appeared on Warren Schatz’s Disco
Spectacular, a compilation of various artists doing club-friendly
versions of songs from, ironically, Hair. (Vicki sang “Easy to Be Hard”.) In 1979, she issued her last album, Movin’ On, contributed “Nighttime
Fantasy” to the soundtrack of Nocturna: Granddaughter of Dracula, and
appeared on the big screen in Gangsters.
The hits were
drying up but Vicki continued, undaunted, singing commercial jingles (Folgers,
anyone?) and background vocals on other people’s hits such as “Fame”
by Irene Cara. In 1983, Vicki charted
again, in Australia
of all places, with a disco rendition of “To Sir with Love”, of
all things. In the late 1980s,
Vicki dubbed the vocals for Minx and Rapture in the animated television
program, Jem. She collaborated with RuPaul on the 1996 CD, Foxy Lady, and scored her first
hit in the U.K.
with “House of Joy” in 1997.
Then it was
back to the movies, sort of:
Her song, “My Stomp, My Beat”, was included on the
soundtrack of Chasing Amy, and
Vicki appeared as herself in Unauthorized
Death of a Supermodel.
Thanks in part to Gloria Estefan’s remake of “Turn the
Beat Around”, Vicki’s career was resurrected in the ‘90s
and she went on an international tour with fellow disco icons, Gloria
Gaynor, Thelma Houston, K.C. & the Sunshine Band, and The Village
People. In 1999, she appeared
off-Broadway in the self-explanatory Vicki
Sue Robinson: Behind the Beat,
and hit #18 on the dance chart with what would prove to be her swan song, “Move
She did one
more film, Red Lipstick, but did
not live to see it. On 27th
April 2000, she died of complications from cancer in Wilton, Connecticut.