In the 1970s, Sylvia Robinson changed the music business by making the first rap track. Learn why she’s known as the “Mother of Hip Hop.”
Sylvia Robinson was the visionary who smashed the glass barrier in the music industry at a period when males controlled. She sat at mixing desks, played guitar, produced albums, founded record companies, and oversaw the introduction of rap to the music business.
“The Mother of Hip Hop” formed The Sugar Hill Gang and released the first rap song, opening the floodgates to other hip hop artists.
A famous soul singer in the ‘60s, Sylvia released a rap song, “It’s Good To Be The Queen”, in 1982.
Sylvia Robinson: Early Life
Sylvia Vanterpool was born to immigrant parents Herbert and Ida in Harlem, New York. Herbert, her father, was a Virgin Islands native who worked for General Motors in the United States.
She began singing at the age of 11 with her sister Audrey, who went on to become an opera singer.
The future singer and record producer attended Washington Irving High School until she dropped out at the age of 14 to pursue her singing career. She started singing blues tunes with trumpeter Hot Lips Page and signed with Columbia Records as “Little Sylvia” in 1950.
Mickey and Sylvia are a couple.
In 1956, she joined Mickey and Sylvia as half of the eponymous duet. The duo had multiple songs, including “Love is Strange,” which reached No. 1 in the R&B charts in 1957. The song was also recreated in the 1980s classic film Dirty Dancing, reaching number eleven on the Billboard pop charts. Sylvia was taught to play the guitar by Mickey.
They parted up soon after, and Sylvia resurrected her solo career as Sylvia Robbins. In 1960, she uncreditedly produced Joe Jones’ single “You Talk Too Much.”
When Mickey and Sylvia reunited in 1961, they continued to write music for numerous record companies, including their own Willow Records.
When Mickey moved to Paris in 1962, the group disintegrated.
|Full Name||Sylvia Vanterpool- Robinson|
|Stage Name||Sylvia Robinson, Little Sylvia, Sylvia, Sylvia Robbins, Shirley Robbins|
|Famous As||The Mother of Hip Hop|
|Age (upon death)||76yo|
|Date of Birth||May 29,1935|
|Place of Birth||Harlem, New York, US|
|Date of Death||September 29, 2011|
|Place of Death||Secaucus, New Jersey|
|Ethnicity||Central American (Virgin Islander)|
|Spouse||Joseph Robinson, Sr.|
|Children||Joseph Robinson Jr., (1962-2015)
Leland Robinson (1965- )
Rhondo “Scutchie” Robinson (1970–2014)
|Eye color||Dark brown|
|Profession||Singer, Musician, Record producer, and Record label executive|
|Education||Washington Irving High School|
|Total Net worth||$15M|
|Awards and Recognitions||Gold disc by the R.I.A.A. in May 1973
Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance (nominated, 1974 Grammy Awards)
|Associated with||Mickey, The Moments, Retta Young, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Sugar Hill Gang, The Sequence, Duke Bootee, Bo Diddley, Bernard Edwards, DJ Kool Herc, The Magichords|
|Trivia||Mickey and Sylvia contributed vocals and guitar works to Ike and Tina Turner’s song “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine”|
Sylvia Robinson: Husband
In real life, Sylvia met Joseph Robinson, a bar owner, and aspiring entrepreneur, and they became life partners. They married in 1964 and launched Soul Sound, an eight-track recording facility in Englewood, New Jersey. The pair founded their first record label, All Platinum Records, in 1968, specializing in soul music.
Sylvia Robinson: All of the records are platinum.
“Love on a Two-Way Street,” one of the biggest songs of the 1970s, was co-produced and co-written by the female music entrepreneur. All Platinum Records developed subsidiaries, Stang and Vibration (records), and was responsible for such songs as Shirley & Company’s “Shame, Shame, Shame” (1975) and the Moments’ “Look at Me (I’m in Love),” among others.
Sylvia Robinson: Sweet Stuff and Pillow Talk
Sylvia maintained her singing career, releasing the song “Pillow Talk” in 1973, in addition to composing, producing, and managing record labels. The song was a smash, returning to the top of the R&B charts and reaching #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, as well as #14 on the UK Singles Chart.
After Al Green declined to record the song in 1972 due to his religious convictions, Sylvia recorded it alone.
The seductive diva went on to record four more solo albums for Vibration Records, churning out R&B singles like “Sweet Stuff” and “Pussy Cat,” as well as the 1976 album “Sylvia.”
Sugar Hill Records is owned by Sylvia Robinson.
Sugar Hill Records was formed by the Robinsons in 1974 and is named after an upscale African-American enclave in Manhattan, New York, that serves as a hub for entertainers and artists.
Sylvia founded the Sugar Hill Gang, which helped to establish rap and hip hop music as a popular musical genre.
Sylvia Robinson: Hip Hop’s Mother
The introduction of rhyming vocals to accompany the repeating and typically hypnotic rhythm patterns generated by disc jockeys from their turntables was witnessed in the 1970s in New York’s club and party scenes.
Robinson’s frightening presence in the Harlem World nightclub spurred a plan to mainstream rap music.
In a 1997 interview, the Mother of Hip Hop admitted that she had no idea the new music genre was called “rap,” but was intrigued by the audience’s ecstatic response to DJ Lovebug Starski rapping over the disco songs’ musical breaks. A voice inside her told her to “put something like that on record, and it will be the biggest thing.” The epiphany saved her from further financial woes.
Rapper’s Delight: The Sugar Hill Gang
In the lack of recorded rap music at the time, Sylvia Robinson took a chance and co-wrote and produced “Rapper’s Delight,” the first rap song ever recorded for commercial release.
The 1979 record by the rap group Sugar Hill Gang was a smash hit. The song was instrumental in establishing rap music as a distinct musical genre.
The audacious move paved the way for other hip hop artists, with the song selling over 8 million copies and charting at No. 4 on the R&B charts and No. 36 on Billboard’s Hot 100.
The Furious Five and Grandmaster Flash
In 2007, Robinson oversaw the establishment of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, the first rap group to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The group was responsible for the rap song “The Message,” which was chosen by the Library of Congress as one of the 50 songs to be included to the National Recording Registry of historic sound recordings.
According to a Rolling Stone poll conducted in 2012, the rap song on the difficulties of living in the ghetto was selected the Greatest Hip Hop Song of All Time.
The vinyl recordings and turntable used by group member DJ Grandmaster Flash are on exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History’s historical archives in Washington, D.C.
The Death of Sylvia Robinson
Sylvia died of congestive heart failure at the age of 76, after spending her final days in a vegetative state at the New Jersey Institute of Neuroscience.
Her obituary reported that she died on September 29, 2011 at Meadowlands Hospital in Secaucus, New Jersey.
The Legacy of Sylvia Robinson
To this day, the Mother of Hip Hop inspires musicians and the entertainment business.
Music. In 2003, artist Moby sampled her song Sunday for his song of the same name, Sunday (The Day Before My Birthday). In 2009, Jay Z and Alicia Keys sampled “Love on a Two-Way Street,” a song Robinson co-wrote and produced.
Television. Sylvia Robinson was represented by actress and stand-up comedian Retta in the 2014 Drunk History episode “American Music,” which was shown after her death.
Sylvia Robinson was partially based on Cookie Lyon, one of the major characters on the popular TV program Empire. The documentary series Profiles of African-American Success features Robinson.
Book. The achievements of Sylvia and her ex-husband Joseph Robinson were documented in the book “The Vibe- History of Hip Hop,” released by Random House in September 1999.
Film. After purchasing the rights in 2014, Warner Bros. and producer Paula Wagner revealed in 2018 that they will make a film on Sylvia Robinson’s life. Leland Robinson, Robinson’s last surviving son, has volunteered to serve as one of the executive producers on the film.
Halle Berry, an actress and model, is being courted for the starring role. Also being considered are Jada Pinkett Smith, Paula Patton, and Kerry Washington.
Sylvia Robinson Net Worth
|Estimated Net Worth 2020||$15M|
|How Much Did Sylvia Robinson’s Family Earn Last Year?||$ 500K|
|What Are Sylvia Robinson’s Family Income Sources?||Music royalties and publishing|
|How Much Does Sylvia Robinson’s Family Earn From Royalties?||$300K|
|How Much Does Sylvia Robinson’s Family Earn From Music Publishing?||$200K|
Sugar Hill Music announced a contract with Universal Music Publishing in 2013 to allow the latter to manage its portfolio, which is expected to boost profits. According to industry statistics, a record company is entitled to more than half of the revenue generated by a successful record.
According to Nelson George’s The Death of Rhythm & Blues, the Robinsons made $3.5 million on the original release of “Rapper’s Delight.” Without additional sales, royalties, or other revenue-generating partnerships, the song is presently valued at least $12.3 million.
The Robinson brothers were found guilty of not submitting royalty tax returns in 2013. From 2005 through 2008, Leland made $580,000, while Joseph and Rhondo earned $577,000 and $792,000, according to court filings. They were fined, and probation, home confinement, and community service were imposed.
Darnell Roy, Sylvia’s grandson, went on to start a music career and was featured in an episode of My Super Sweet 16 for his opulent celebration in 2016.
In 2017, Bravo TV premiered the reality show First Family of Hip Hop, which follows the late Sylvia Robinson’s family. It featured eight episodes and lasted one season.