Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Passings: Cynthia Robinson of Sly & the Family Stone (1944 - 2015)

Cynthia Robinson, the vocalist and trumpeter for Sly and the Family Stone, died from cancer on November 23 at the age of 71.

Robinson took up the trumpet while still in school even thought it was considered a male instrument. was playing in the group Sly & the Stoners when, in 1966, Sly and his brother, Freddie Stone of Freddie & the Stone Souls, decided to combine forces as Sly & the Family Stone along with Robinson, Gregg Errico, Jerry Martini and Larry Graham. Sister Rose Stone joined a year later to complete the group that would change the face of both soul and rock music.

The band signed with Epic Records and released their first album, A Whole New Thing, in 1967 to critical acclaim but little sales. Even though they were not that happy with the song, Columbia chairman Clive Davis convinced the group to record their Dance To the Music which, upon its release in February 1968, shot to number 9 on the R&B singles and 8 on the Hot 100.

The album Dance to the Music peaked at 142 and the follow-up, Life (1968) at 195 but their big break came with their fourth set, Stand! which contained the number one single Everyday People. The album went to number 13 and set the tone for the next five years of the groups recordings including the albums There's a Riot Going On (1971 / #1), Fresh (1973 / #7) and Small Talk (1974 / #15). The band hit number 1 two more times with Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin) (1969) and Family Affair (1971) along with the number 2 Hot Fun in the Summertime (1969).

Throughout, Robinson played trumpet with the group and occasionally sang but, by 1974, internal strife in the group set off by Sly's erratic behavior and occasional missing of shows led to heavy turnover in the ranks of the band; however, Cynthia stayed true to Sly becoming the only member to play on all for of Sly & the Family Stone's later four albums.

Outside of Sly & the Family Stone, Robinson also played with former bandmate Larry Graham's group Graham Central Station along with occasional sessions with Funkadelic, Stargard and The Robert Cray Band.  In 2006, she returned to the revamped Family Stone which also included Martini, Errico and Robinson and Sly's daughter Sylvette Phunne Robinson (aka Phune Stone).

She is survived by Sylvette, another daughter, Laura Marie Robinson, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.