Profiles of African-American Success: Sylvia Robinson
by Bayer Mack
Released September 6, 1979, “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugarhill Gang, was not the first song to feature rapping, but it’s widely-considered to be the record that ushered rap into the public arena and spawned a billion-dollar industry.
While “Rapper’s Delight” has been recognized by the Library of Congress as “culturally,historically, and aesthetically significant,” little attention has been given to Sylvia Robinson, the revolutionary music producer and label executive behind the hit record.
Born Sylvia Vanterpool on March 6, 1936 in Harlem, she began her career as a solo artist signed to Columbia Records at age 14, before teaming with Louisville, KY guitarist Mickey Baker to form the group “Mickey & Silvia” in 1954.
Five years later, Sylvia married Joe Robinson. The Robinsons founded All Platinum Records in 1967 and scored a string of hits, including the million-selling “Love on a Two-Way Street” by the Moments, which Sylvia co-wrote and produced.
In 1973, Sylvia wrote, produced and performed “Pillow Talk”, which hit number three on the pop charts.
Robinson would later go on to found the hip-hop label, Sugar Hill Records, but initially had trouble finding artists because most of the popular rappers who performed in clubs, like Eddie Cheeba and DJ Hollywood, didn’t want to record, so Robinson persuaded a young man she discovered at a New Jersey pizzeria to record someone else’s lyrics over an instrumental to the hit song “Good Times” by popular disco-funk group Chic.
The result was “Rapper’s Delight”, which would go on to sell a reported five-million copies, enabling Sugar Hill Records to expand and recruit better talent, like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, whose 1982 hit “The Message” introduced street consciousness to Hip-Hop lyrics and became the first rap song preserved in the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress.