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Robinson, Sylvia (6th Match 1936-29th September 2011)

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 1957.  Their “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.

Two years 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 business.

Two years after she had her second split from Mickey, Sylvia and her husband moved to New Jersey where they founded All Platinum Records.  The label saw its first hit in 1967 with “I Won’t Do Anything” by Lezli Valentine.

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 & Company.

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.

In September 2011 Sylvia passed away from congestive heart failure after being in a coma in hospital in New Jersey.  She was 75 years old.

She left 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 Valentine:  Uncredited Lyrics)
(LP:  Not on the Outside, but on the Inside, Strong!)