*Trumpeter Cynthia Robinson, also known as the voice in Sly and the Family Stone that screamed “get up and dance to the music,” died of cancer on Monday (Nov. 23) at the age of 69, according to her Facebook page.
Born in Sacramento, Robinson was one of the first female black trumpeters to gain notoriety in a major recording act. Saxophonist Jerry Martini tells Billboard: “She covered a lot of ground. 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.”
According to Billboard, 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.
Robinson’s cancer diagnosis was revealed on her Facebook page in October, 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.”
Roots drummer Questlove paid loving tribute to Robinson on Instagram:
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