'Mother Of Hip-Hop' Dies At Age 75

Sep 30, 2011
Originally published on September 30, 2011 8:22 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, host: We'd like to take a moment now to remember a pioneer in the music world, Sylvia Robinson. She passed away yesterday at the age of 75. She's sometimes referred to as the mother of hip-hop because of the record label she started with her husband, Sugar Hill Records, and she assembled the Sugar Hill Gang, helping to create the song, "Rapper's Delight," the first rap song to become a commercial success in 1979.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAPPER'S DELIGHT")

SUGAR HILL GANG: (Singing) Do the hip-hop, the hip - do the hip-hip-hop and you don't stop a' rocking to the bang-bang boogie. Say upchuck the boogie to the rhythm of the boogie, the beat.

MARTIN: Robinson actively sought out rappers while most labels were still convinced that rap was something that would only work as music of the street and not on record.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAPPER'S DELIGHT")

GANG: (Singing) ...move your feet. See, I am wonder Mike and I'd like to say hello to the black, to the white, the red and the brown, the purple and yellow...

MARTIN: She drove around and scouted these artists in urban neighborhoods in New York and New Jersey and invited them into the studio to record. She scored notable successes as a producer at a time when very few women played that role in the industry, let alone were acknowledged for it.

Sugar Hill Records, for example, signed Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, the group that put out "The Message" in 1982.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE MESSAGE")

GRANDMASTER FLASH AND THE FURIOUS FIVE: (Singing) Don't push me 'cause I'm close to the edge. I'm trying not to lose my head. It's like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from going under.

MARTIN: But Robinson wasn't just in on the business end of things. She also found success as a performer in her own right with the 1973 hit, "Pillow Talk," and the 1957 song, "Love is Strange," found new life in that iconic scene in "Dirty Dancing."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE IS STRANGE")

MICKEY AND SYLVIA: (Singing) Sylvia. Yes, Mickey. How do you call your lover boy? Come here, lover boy. And if he doesn't answer? Oh, lover boy. And if he still doesn't answer? I simply say, baby, oh, baby.

MARTIN: That was hip-hop pioneer Sylvia Robinson - singer, producer, impresario. She died yesterday in Edison, New Jersey at the age of 75.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE IS STRANGE")

SYLVIA: (Singing) Baby, oh, baby, my sweet baby, you're the one. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.