Cynthia Robinson, a founding member for Sly and the Family Stone who played trumpet, has died after a battle with cancer. The musician’s Facebook page and Billboard confirmed the news Tuesday. She was 69.
The trumpeter was best known for her joyous melodies and inspired vocals and ad-libs on songs like “Dance to the Music” and “I Want to Take You Higher.” She commanded listeners to “get up and dance to the music” at the beginning of the former song and sang “hey, hey, hey” background vocals on the latter.
Robinson’s career with Sly Stone began in 1966 when the bandleader put together a group called the Stoners. They fell apart quickly, though, and she became a fixture of the Family Stone – a group whose members were male and female and represented different races, a novel idea at the time – alongside her cousin Larry Graham.
Although the ensemble’s A Whole New Thing was not a hit, its second LP Dance to the Music scored a hit in 1967 with the title cut, paving the way for a string of successful songs that included “Everyday People,” “Stand,” “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again),” “Family Affair” and many others. Trumpeter Miles Davis, deep into his fusion period, said at the time that he was a fan. The band fizzled in popularity by the mid-Seventies, with members leaving, but the trumpeter continued to record with Stone into the Eighties.
When not playing with the Family Stone, Robinson played in Graham’s Graham Central Station and worked with George Clinton and Prince. She was inducted into the 1993 class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame alongside her Family Stone bandmates.
Robinson was born on January 12th, 1944 in Sacramento, California. She played brass instruments in her high school marching band and participated in an all-faith church choir. She met Stone while still in high school and ran into him again when he was a radio DJ after moving to Oakland. Stone was so beholden to his longtime friend that at the peak of “Everyday People” popularity, he cancelled three months of booked appearances – including the Ed Sullivan Show – while he waited for Robinson to recover from an emergency gall bladder operation.
In recent years, after Stone disappeared from the public eye, Robinson continued to play with a group called simply the Family Stone. She appeared on “Do Yo Dance,” the group’ latest single released this past summer.
Earlier this year, she told Rolling Stone how committed the singer was to equality and feminism, citing “M’Lady” as an example. “You may think Sly’s talking about the ladies in the song, but he’s actually talking to the men,” she said. “He’s giving the ladies props. He’s telling the men that the ladies are cool, that they need to pay more attention to them! The repetitive line is, ‘Give her some time.’ He’s telling the guys to spend more time with their ladies. Give her some attention!”
When news of Robinson’s death broke, Questlove penned a loving tribute to her, calling her music’s original “hypeman” in an Instagram post. “She wasn’t just a screaming cheerleading foil to Sly and Freddie [Stone]’s gospel vocals; she was a kick ass trumpet player,” he wrote. “A crucial intricate part of Sly Stone’s utopian vision of MLK’s America: Sly and the Family Stone were brothers and cousins, friends and enemies, black and white, male and female. saint and sinner. … Cynthia’s role in music history isn’t celebrated enough.”
The administrators of Robinson’s Facebook page asked that fans continue to contribute to the Cynthia Robinson Cancer Care Fund.