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Hip-Hop Pioneer Sylvia Robinson Dies at 75

Sylvia Robinson
Vibration Records

Sylvia Robinson, the singer who rose to prominence as half of the duo Mickey & Sylvia before embarking on a solo career and earning the title the “Mother of Hip-Hop” as a co-founder of the seminal rap label Sugar Hill Records, passed away Thursday at the age of 75 after suffering congestive heart failure.

The New York City native first tasted success with ‘Love Is Strange,’ the Mickey & Sylvia single that topped the R&B charts — and was a top 20 pop hit — in 1956. In the early ’70s, billed simply as Sylvia, Robinson scored another number one R&B hit with ‘Pillow Talk.’

She quickly moved behind the scenes of the music business, co-founding All Platinum Records in 1968 with her husband, Joe Robinson. But it was in the next decade, when the Robinsons helped start Sugar Hill Records, that they truly cemented their legacy.

According to legend, Robinson overheard guests rapping at a party, and set about putting together a rap group for her label. The result was the Sugarhill Gang, who scored the genre’s first hit single with ‘Rapper’s Delight’ in 1979. She went on to sign Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, and was instrumental in persuading the group to record the early hip-hop classic ‘The Message.’

Though Sugar Hill Records went out of business in 1986, missing out on much of the huge commercial success of the genre they helped create, the label released more than 25 gold records and helped popularize the music video. Fittingly, Robinson’s own vocals were later a popular source of samples for artists such as Moby and J Dilla.


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