Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Farewell, Cynthia Robinson, the lady who ordered us to "get on up, and dance to the music"

She was the trumpet player whose high-pitched, rasping, trumpet-like voice can be heard at the start of one of the most exciting, energy-charged singles ever released - Sly and the Family Stone's "Dance to the Music" - and who later yells "all the squares - go home!" And she's the "Cynthia on the throne" referred to by band-leader Sly Stone in the song.

The San Francisco band was - for its time - extraordinary - a truly multiracial ensemble, black girls playing trumpets and keyboards, black guys picking up the Jimi Hendrix mantle by dressing as whacked-out hippies (its original name was Sly & the Stoners), snatches of acapella harmony, band members ranged seemingly every which way around the stage, and the sense that members were singing out whenever they felt like it: but, of course, the chaos was controlled, - with a big, fat, rumbling bass guitar beat making sense of what could have an unholy mess. And, goodness, didn't they look and sound like they were having fun.

Three and a bit gloriously productive, creative years ensued - and then the Black Panthers began circling the band, vulture-like, and "suggested" that Sly Stone fire the white members of the band, and he became a major league dope fiend, and that was that. (It was a similar story over at Stax Records, where black gangsters forced out the white folk out and destroyed the racially harmonious label). Cynthia Robinson went on to play with other bands, and reformed the Family Stone with two other original members a few years' ago. But, of course, it's those glorious early recordings that she and her colleagues will be remembered for. Here are a few personal favourites:


  1. Great post. I remember how fresh and original Dance to the Music sounded when it came out. The big fat rumbling bass is courtesy of Larry Graham, who eventually left via a hotel window to form Graham Central Station.. The less than perfect audio on some of the tracks on There's a Riot Going On is apparently due to tape wear. Sly would invite a range of female guest vocalists to the studio and then wipe the track when their efforts had been appropriately rewarded. What a shame the drugs took over.

  2. Dynamite.One of about 20 or so records you know exactly where you were when you first heard it.