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SYLVIA ROBINSON CO-FOUNDER OF SUGAR HILL RECORDS DIES AT 75!

Sylvia Robinson, who flipped the switch that started turning rap music from a New York street phenomenon into the country's dominant pop music sound, died Thursday morning at Meadowlands Hospital in Secaucus.
She was 75 and reportedly suffered from congestive heart failure.

Robinson may be best known to many music and movie fans for the 1957 hit "Love Is Strange," which she recorded with guitarist Mickey Baker as Mickey & Sylvia.

Her call-and-response with Baker – "How you call your lover boy?".. . . "C'mere, lover boy!" – resurfaced a quarter century later as an iconic seduction scene in the movie "Dirty Dancing," where Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey lip-synch the words as she circles him on all fours.

Robinson also scored a No. 1 R&B hit in 1973 with "Pillow Talk," a song comprised almost entirely of sexy whispers. She had a dozen solo chart hits over the next decade, none that big.

Robinson and her late husband Joseph formed Sugar Hill Records in the 1970s as an R&B/disco label. It was faltering until they recorded three Bronx rappers – Big Bank Hank, Wonder Mike and Master Gee – doing a mashup of street rhymes over the musical track of Chic's "Good Times."

Robinson called the record "Rapper's Delight" and named the group the Sugar Hill Gang. It was not the first rap recording, but it was the first mainstream rap hit, reaching No. 4 on the R&B charts and leading other, mostly smaller, record labels to make their own rap recordings.

Most historians and fans consider it more important that Robinson soon signed Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. In contrast to the innocuous party rhymes of "Rapper's Delight," the Furious Five cut several tracks of dark, ominous social commentary, including "The Message" and "New York, New York."

"New York, New York, big city o' dreams," went one verse. "Everything in New York ain't always what it seems."

"The Message" didn't get a lot of mainstream radio play, but it reached No. 4 on the R&B charts and generated deafening buzz inside the music business.

Within five years, rap music was a major part of the music industry, and today hip-hop beats infuse everything down to bubblegum pop for pre-teens.

Robinson and Sugar Hill did not reap the rewards of the seed they helped plant, however. Half the Furious Five sued and left the label, noting that Robinson had only used lead rapper Melle Mel and none of the other group members on "The Message."

Other labels like Tommy Boy and Russell Simmons's Def Jam swept in to become dominant early rap players.

But Sylvia Robinson was known as a smart businesswoman and the Robinsons still did well, buying the famed Chess catalog and reselling it to MCA in 1986 for a substantial profit.

Robinson, who was born in Harlem in 1936, is survived by three sons, Joseph Jr., Leland and Rhondo.




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