Prison Radio
Mumia Abu-Jamal

When one thinks of rap music, hundreds of names immediately pop up, but few outside the know would opt for Harlem’s Sylvia Robinson. For one thing, while she was a talented musician and singer, rap wasn’t really her forte: she was more an RnB (Rhythm & Blues), pop and Soul kind of woman. Yet as fate would have it, she earned the title of the ‘Mother of Hip Hop’ by virtue of chance and necessity.

Several years ago she was interviewed by noted cultural historian, James G. Spady. Spady, a weekly columnist for the Phila. paper, SCOOP U.S.A., and one of the co-authors of the 1999 book, Street Conscious Rap (Black History Museum Umum Publ.:Phila.), found Robinson describing her moment of revelation as a virtual spiritual experience. She went to a Harlem disco one night to attend her sister’s birthday party.

She was bored and depressed, until she saw something that struck her, telling Spady: “I was getting up in the balcony and I saw all these kids on the floor …And here was [a] fellow talking on a mic with music playing, and I saw if he told them to do this, or do that, they would do it …All of a sudden I felt a chill all over my body and a voice said to me, ‘You put that on tape and you’ll be out of all the trouble you’ve ever been In.’ And all at once, I felt the chills all over my body, like the Holy Spirit overcoming me. And that’s how it happened. It was really a Revelation of God how that happened.”*

Her tapes became records and that launched an urban and now global industry that accrues over $40 billion dollars a year today. Robinson started the Sugarhill Records label in the ’70s. Robinson was part of the 1950s-era duo, Mickey & Sylvia, which recorded “Love Is Strange.” Her later piece, “Pillow Talk” was a sexy RnB and pop hit. She sang, played guitar, and wrote as well as produced music, of various genres.

Sylvia Robinson passed away recently from congestive heart failure, according to published accounts, at 75 years of age, after a lifetime of making music.