Though male rappers aren't often kind in their lyrics toward women, it was a woman who effectively began the rap recording business.
In the late '70s, Sylvia Robinson, who had hits of her own as Sylvia and others in the duo Mickey and Sylvia, founded Sugar Hill Records. The label launched what is widely recognized as the first major rap hit, the Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight."
She was born Sylvia Vanderpool on March 6, 1936, in New York City. An R&B vocalist, Vanderpool met blues guitarist Mickey Baker when she was 18.
Baker taught her to play guitar, and the two began performing together as the duo Mickey and Sylvia. In 1956, the pair recorded the million-selling smash "Love Is Strange" (RealAudio excerpt), which went to #2 on the R&B chart and #11 on the Billboard Hot 100. Paul and Linda McCartney later covered the tune on their band Wings' Wild Life (1971).
Mickey and Sylvia also enjoyed moderate hits with "There Oughta Be a Law" (1957) and "Baby You're So Fine" (1961). The latter hit the charts in 1961, the year the duo split when Baker moved to Europe. They reunited only for a few shows in 1965.
In 1956 Sylvia married Joe Robinson, with whom she started All Platinum Records and its studio in the late '60s. Sylvia produced and played guitar on Ike and Tina Turner's 1961 hit "It's Gonna Work Out Fine." She also handled production on and co-penned the Moments' 1970 million-seller "Love on a Two-Way Street."
Sylvia had the biggest solo smash of her career in 1973 with the #1 R&B, top-five pop hit "Pillow Talk." The track was notable for its suggestive cooing preDonna Summer's "Love to Love You Baby." Sylvia also scored a year later with "Sweet Stuff" and in 1978 with "Automatic Lover." She wrote the 1976 disco hit "Shame, Shame, Shame" for Shirley and Company. In addition to Pillow Talk, Sylvia's solo LPs on her Vibration label include Sylvia (1976) and Lay It on Me (1977).
She then shifted her career focus to the business side, renaming All Platinum as Sugar Hill and assembling a crew of rap singers, which she called the Sugar Hill Gang, to record "Rapper's Delight" (RealAudio excerpt), a #4 R&B smash and a #26 pop hit. Sylvia also signed and produced the seminal rap act Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, as well as Sequence and Funky Four Plus One. Sugar Hill Records' music became the source of most Americans' first exposure to rap, making Sylvia one of the genre's foremost pioneers.
In the '80s, Sylvia had a minor R&B hit with "It's Good to Be the Queen." In 1996 Rhino Records issued Pillow Talk: The Sensuous Sounds of Sylvia, featuring such provocatively titled songs as "You Sure Love to Ball" and "Private Performance."
Other birthdays on Monday: David Gilmour (Pink Floyd), 56; Mary Wilson (Supremes), 56; Hugh Grundy (Zombies), 55; Tony Klatka (Blood, Sweat and Tears), 54; Kiki Dee, 53; Shaquille O'Neal, 28; Furry Lewis, 18931981; and Bob Wills (Texas Playboys), 19051975.