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Cynthia Robinson, Sly and the Family Stone Trumpet Player, Dies at 71 – The New York Times

Cynthia Robinson, Sly and the Family Stone Trumpet Player, Dies at 71 – The New York Times


Cynthia Robinson, Sly and the Family Stone Trumpet Player, Dies at 71

NOV. 26, 2015
Sly and the Family Stone in their heyday, featuring from left, Rose Stone, Larry Graham, Sly Stone, Freddie Stone, Greg Errico, Jerry Martini (seated) and Cynthia Robinson. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images 

Cynthia Robinson, a trumpet player and original member of the seminal psychedelic-funk-soul group Sly and the Family Stone, died on Monday in Carmichael, Calif. She was 71.

The cause was cancer, Jerry Martini, a friend and bandmate, said.

Ms. Robinson joined Sly Stone in a short-lived group called Sly and the Stoners in 1966. Soon after, he asked her to be a member of the Family Stone, whose inclusion of black and white musicians of both sexes, and its hippie style, made it a living poster for the ideals of the counterculture.

In addition to supplying trumpet riffs, Ms. Robinson chipped in with vocals. At the beginning of “Dance to the Music,” the group’s first hit, she can be heard shouting, “Get on up and dance to the music!” and she is part of the punchy “hey, hey, hey” chorus in “I Want to Take You Higher.”

“Cynthia’s role in music history isn’t celebrated enough,” the producer and musician Questlove wrote on Instagram. “Her & sister Rose”— Mr. Stone’s sister, a singer and keyboardist with the group — “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.” 

With the rest of the band, Ms. Robinson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.

Cynthia Robinson was born on Jan. 12, 1944, in Sacramento. She played flute in elementary school, but there were no flutes available at her high school, and she was told to play the clarinet. Unhappy, she asked a fellow student, whom she had heard playing the trumpet in a practice room, if she could give his instrument a try.

“Everything I blew was off key, but I knew it could sound good if you worked on it, and that’s what I wanted to do,” she told the online magazine Rookie in 2013.

Playing the trumpet put her in conflict with the boys at her school, who considered the trumpet strictly a male instrument. “It left me with the impression that, you know, no guy in the world would let a girl play the trumpet in his group,” she said in a 1993 interview for the Boston public radio station WGBH.

Her first trumpet belonged to a beatnik, who told her she could have it if she played at one of his parties. “It smelled bad, it had all kinds of green crud inside the tubing, so I took it home, cleaned it, soaked it in hot water, cleaned it all out, and it was mine,” she told Rookie.

Ms. Robinson had known Mr. Stone in high school by his real name, Sylvester Stewart, and had followed him when he was a D.J. at the San Francisco radio station KSOL. But when they crossed paths in the mid-1960s, she did not realize that “Sly Stone” was her former friend. By then he was a musician and record producer, with ideas about forming a musical group.

Although Sly and the Stoners failed to catch fire, the Family Stone showed promise from the outset. In an early rehearsal, the members tried a Ray Charles song, “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” with gratifying results.

“We hit that first note, and it was like the Fourth of July — I just saw sparks and lights and my body just went totally nuts,” Ms. Robinson told Rookie. “I couldn’t play anymore — it was magnificent. I’d never heard a sound that great.”

The group’s first album, “A Whole New Thing,” released in 1967, went nowhere, but “Dance to the Music,” released the following year, scored a Top 10 hit with the title song, leading to a string of chart successes: “Everyday People,” “Stand,” “Hot Fun in the Summertime” and “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again).”

The group broke up in 1975, but Ms. Robinson continued to record with Mr. Stone into the next decade. She played with the funk band Graham Central Station, led by her cousin and fellow Family Stone member Larry Graham, and worked with George Clinton and Prince. In 2006, she began playing with a new version of the Family Stone, which included two of the band’s original members, the saxophonist Mr. Martini and the drummer Greg Errico, as well as her daughter with Mr. Stone, Sylvette Phunne Robinson, also known as Phunne Stone. She and her daughter sang lead vocals on “Do Yo Dance,” a single released by the group this past summer.

Ms. Robinson died at Phunne Stone’s home and had lived in Sacramento. Survivors also include another daughter, Laura Marie Robinson, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

“We were not even anticipating or reaching for stardom when we started,” Ms. Robinson told Rookie. “We just loved playing together.”


Jim Eigo Jazz Promo Services T: 845-986-1677 E-Mail: jim@jazzpromoservices.com



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