Sylvia Robinson Co-Founded Sugar Hill Records And Is Hailed As The Mother Of Hip-Hop

New York City native Sylvia Vanderpool Robinson was born in 1936. Robinson would go on to work as a singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer, and executive for a record company. Robinson is well known for establishing Sugar Hill Records and serving as its CEO. She is recognized for producing two landmark hip-hop albums: the Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” from 1980 and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message” from 1982.

Sylvia Robinson began her career in the music industry at the age of 14 when she began singing blues with trumpet player Hot Lips Page and began recording songs for Columbia Records under the name Little Sylvia in 1950. She linked up with Mickey Baker, a Kentucky guitarist who taught her to play guitar, four years later. Jody Williams and Bo Diddley recorded the rock hit “Love Is Strange” with the pair in 1956. In 1957, the song reached No. 11 on the Billboard pop charts and topped the R&B charts. Sylvia married Joseph Robinson and started her solo career as Sylvia Robbins when the group broke up in 1959.

In 1966, the two went to New Jersey and founded All Platinum Records, a soul music company the following year. Robinson gave Al Green a tape of a song she wrote called “Pillow Talk” in 1972, but Green declined the record. So Robinson recorded the song herself as Sylvia, and it went to No. 1 on the R&B chart and No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1973. Two million copies of “Pillow Talk” were sold.

Sugar Hill Records was created by the couple in 1978, and it was named after a wealthy Black neighborhood in Harlem, New York. Big Bank Hang, Master Gee, and Wonder Mike, three young unknown male rappers from Englewood, New Jersey, were discovered by Robinson. She’d urge them to make up rhymes on the spot and record them as the Sugar Hill Gang. As a result, an almost fifteen-minute tune based on Chic’s “Good Times” was created. “Rappers Delight” peaked at No. 4 on the R&B charts and No. 56 on the Billboard Hot 100, selling over eight million copies. It also transformed the music industry by introducing hip-hop to a nationwide audience.

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five signed her in 1982, and she produced “The Message.” The track, which was about ghetto life, became one of the era’s most effective social commentaries. Sugar Hill label disbanded in 1985, owing to competition from rival labels such as Def Jam and Profile. Robinson, who was now divorced, went on to work as a music executive producer.

On September 29, 2011, at the age of 75, Robinson died of congestive heart failure at Meadowlands Hospital in Secaucus, New Jersey.

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