Cynthia Robinson, the trumpeter and co-founder of seminal funk group Sly and the Family Stone, died Monday of cancer, according to her Facebook page. She was 69 years old.
Robinson became acquainted with Sly Stone and the rest of the band members by joining The Stoners, a predecessor to the Family Stone. She was a foundational piece to the resulting group, becoming one of the first prominent black women trumpeters in popular music. In addition to her harmonious trumpet riffs, Robinson added vocal ad libs over tracks, such as in “Dance to the Music” and “I Want to Take You Higher.” She played with the band until it broke up in 1975, then periodically played on Sly Stone’s solo records.
Robinson was born in Sacramento on Jan. 12, 1946. Growing up, Robinson imagined playing with the era’s preeminent R&B and blues stars. “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,” she told Family Stone biographer Joel Selvin, via Billboard. “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.”
Upon hearing about her death, The Roots drummer Questlove penned a tribute on Instagram. “Goodbye to Cynthia Robinson. Music’s original ‘hypeman’ 20 years before Public Enemy pioneered the ‘Vice President’ position,” he writes. “But she wasn’t just a screaming cheerleading foil to Sly & Freddie’s gospel vocals. She was a KICK ASS trumpet player.”
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
A photo posted by Questlove Gomez (@questlove) on Nov 24, 2015 at 2:48am PST
Her cancer diagnosis was announced in October with the creation of the Cynthia Robinson Cancer Care Fund.