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Rhythm Revue Spotlight: Felix Hernandez on Sylvia Robinson, 'The Mother of Hip-Hop'

Sylvia Robinson
Sylvia Robinson

September 16 marks the anniversary of an important R& B single, but before I tell you what it is, a little background. In 1957, a young singer from Harlem had her first hit record with guitarist Mickey Baker. It was called “Love is Strange.” As Mickey and Sylvia, Sylvia Vanderpool would continue recording with Mickey Baker for a number of years, but the hits stopped coming. They ghosted behind Ike and Tina Turner's hit “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine,” with Sylvia playing guitar.

It's Gonna Work Out Fine

Sylvia married Joseph Robinson and then moved to New Jersey. In 1966, the couple formed a record company based in the Garden State called All Platinum Records. The labels that sprung from All Platinum included Stang and Turbo, and later Sugar Hill, named for the famous neighborhood in uptown Manhattan. The Moments, a vocal group from New Jersey, were among the most popular acts signed to Sylvia and Joe's label. Sylvia herself would return to the charts in the early 70s. with a song that she wrote originally for Al Green called “Pillow Talk.”

Sylvia ♡Pillow Talk♡ Lyric Video

So how did a singer with two chart hits 15 years apart, who co-owned a successful record company with her husband, become the mother of hip hop? It was on September 16, 1979, that Sylvia Robinson released “Rapper's Delight” on her Sugar Hill label. The artists were the Sugar Hill Gang, a trio from Harlem. Michael Wright, Guy O'Brien, and Henry Jackson would have the first Top ten R& B rap hit, sparking the birth of hip-hop.

Sugar Hill Records closed its doors in 1985, but hip-hop lived on. Sylvia Robinson died on September 29, 2011.

Listen above.

Recommended Listening
"Love Is Strange" by Mickey & Sylvia
"Pillow Talk" by Sylvia Robinson
"Love on a Two-Way Street" by The Moments
"Rappers Delight" – by The Sugar Hill Gang

The Sugarhill Gang - Rapper's Delight (Official Video)

Felix Hernandez started his career as a producer and radio journalist while in college. In the 1980’s, Felix independently produced the award-winning radio series BluesStage, which had a 6 year run on over 200 NPR stations. He also worked extensively as a journalist with WBEZ in Chicago, and NPR.