She was the voice that commanded us to “get up and dance to the music,” and the woman who Sly Stone put “on the throne” in the Family Stone hit “Dance to the Music.”
Robinson’s cancer diagnosis was announced in October on her Facebook page, along with the establishment of the Cynthia Robinson Cancer Care Fund. Robinson herself posted a message of thanks “to everyone who has donated. Love you all!” at the time, and the fund is remaining active “due to the rising medical costs,” with a Facebook page staying active “in her memory.”
Robinson was one of the first female black trumpeters to gain notoriety in a major recording act, and saxophonist Jerry Martini tells Billboard that she should never be considered a background figure. “She covered a lot of ground,” he says. “She was the first female trumpet player and the first African-American trumpet player in Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She wasn’t in the back. She was out front telling you to get up and dance to the music, and she could blow with the best of ’em, always.”
The Sacramento-born Robinson’s roots ran deep in blues and R&B. She told Family Stone biographer Joel Selvin, “I used to hear all these guys on 78s at my mother’s when I was a teenager…I used to daydream that I was onstage playing the solos; I’m playing with B.B. King and I’m playing with Lowell Fulsom, Jimmy McCracklin. And I literally ended up being in a band that backed them up at different clubs. It was like a dream come true, but that was as big as I could dream.”
Robinson joined Stone — who dubbed her “one of the best trumpeters in the world” — in his Sly and the Stoners band in 1966 and stayed on board as he crafted the pop/rock/R&B synthesis that became the Family Stone. After the group’s dissolution in 1975 she went on to play with bassist Larry Graham’s Graham Central Station and also worked with George Clinton, Prince and as part of Sinbad’s Aruba Summer Soul Festival. Since 2006 she’s been part of the Family Stone with Martini and drummer Gregg Errico. The group also features her daughter with Sly Stone, Sylvette Phunne Stone, a singer and multi-instrumentalist in her own right. (Robinson had one other daughter, Laura Marie).
Robinson also sang lead vocals with her daughter on the Family Stone single “Do Yo Dance,” which came out this year.
Funeral and memorial arrangements have not yet been announced. Questlove paid homage to Robinson on his Instagram, which you can see below.
All The Squares Go Home. Goodbye to Cynthia Robinson. Music’s original “hypeman” 20 years before Public Enemy pioneered the “Vice President” position. But she wasn’t just a screaming cheerleading foil to Sly & Freddie’s gospel vocals. She was a KICK ASS trumpet player. A crucial intricate part of Sly Stone’s utopian vision of MLK’s America: Sly & The Family Stone were brothers & cousins. friends & enemies. black & white. male & female. saint & sinner. common man & superheroes. guarded & vulnerable. poets & punks. hip & square. She was so cool to us the day we opened up for #SlyAndTheFamilyStone she never ever lost a step or a beat. Even when we weren’t so sure if Sly was coming or going during that “comeback” tour (he’d play 20 mins, come onstage and cameo w em for 2 songs, leave, watch them then come back 30 mins later) Cynthia Robinson held that band down. Until her passing The Family Stone was one of the last few #RRHOF groups from the 60s in which ALL original members were still present & accounted for. part of me held hope that #LarryGraham would bury the hatchet & return to the fold just one more time (could you imagine HOW powerful a Sly #GCS combo coulda been? Even if Sly pulled that 6 song ish you know and I know #Prince would be in the wings as pinch hitter and we’d all be the more wiser for it. Cynthia’s role in music history isn’t celebrated enough. Her & sister Rose weren’t just pretty accessories there to “coo” & “shoo wop shoo bob” while the boys got the glory. Naw. They took names and kicked ass while you were dancing in the aisle. Much respect to amazing #CynthiaRobinson