She is a
singer-songwriter, musician and record producer born Sylvia Vanderpool in Harlem, New York City.
She started singing
in high school and began her recording career began in 1950 when she was
only 14 and Columbia Records credited her as Little Sylvia.
In 1954 she
became associated with the guitarist Mickey Baker who gave her guitar
lessons and by 1956 they were performing as “Mickey and
Sylvia”. They had an
R&B chart topping hit with their version of “Love is
Strange”, which also went to No.11 on the Billboard singles chart in
“Dearest” and “What Would I Do” didn’t do too
well and only other song that they released which saw success, but to a
much lesser degree, was “There Oughta Be a
Law”. The duo decided to
call it a day in 1959 and went their separate ways.
Also in 1959
Sylvia and Joe Robinson got married, later having their sons Joey, Leland and
Rhondo and she returned to the solo career which
she had started in 1950.
later in 1961 she got back together with Mickey Baker and they started to
record again. This time they
recorded for several different record labels and sang backing on the hit
“It’s Gonna Work Out Fine” by
Ike and Tina Turner. In 1964
they went their separate ways once again when Mickey Baker moved to Paris after becoming frustrated with the
after she had her second split from Mickey, Sylvia and her husband moved to
Jersey where they founded All Platinum Records. The label saw its first hit in 1967
with “I Won’t Do Anything” by Lezli
In 1968 All
Platinum Records awarded a contract to The Moments who were a soul group
from Washington D.C.
This proved to be a good move as they had a hit straight away with
their “Not on the Outside”. The group changed their line-up over
the next two or three years and recorded the song “Love On a Two Way
Street” which was written by Sylvia and Burt Keyes with Lezli Valentine adding some lyrics but not being
credited. This would become the
group’s biggest hit, although they went on
to have further hits with “Look At Me”, “Sexy Mama”
and “Girls”, which they sang with The Whatnauts.
The label also
had a hit song with “Shame, Shame, Shame” by Shirley &
When the 1970s
came around Sylvia sent a demo of “Pillow Talk” to Al Green in
1972. He declined to record it
so she decided to release it herself.
This proved to be a good move as she released it in late 1972/early
1973 using just the name Sylvia and ended up with an R&B chart No.1, a
Billboard Hot 100 No. 3, a UK No. 14 and got a gold disc for her
troubles. It has also been
highlighted as an example of the earliest disco music with the drum beat
being used by Fleetwod Mac in their “Big
Love” and “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush. Using the All Platinum Records
subsidiary company Vibration she released further solo hits such as
“Pussycat” and “Sweet Stuff” and four albums.
Not happy with
just having the record labels she already owned she decided to form Sugar
Hill Records named after Sugar Hill in Harlem in New York.
Once again she would see further hits such as “The
Message” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five,
“Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugar Hill Gang and “Funk
U Up” by The Sequence and some of these songs re-used existing music
and brought “sampling” to the fore.
By the mid
1980s Sylvia and Joe had divorced and Sugar Hill Records had closed down in
1985. In 1987 she continued
with her work in music and founded Bon Ami Records who signed up The New
Style who later recorded using the name Naughty by Nature.
2011 Sylvia passed away from congestive heart failure after being in a coma
in hospital in New Jersey. She was 75 years old.
behind her the legacy of 4 solo albums, 6 albums by Mickey & Sylvia and
being dubbed “The Mother of modern hip-hop”.
The Moments recordings
Love on a Two-Way Street (Burt Keyes/Sylvia Robinson) (Lezli
on the Outside, but on the Inside, Strong!)