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Singer, hip-hop pioneer Sylvia Robinson dies

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 7:49 PM EDT, Thu September 29, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Singer-songwriter and music entrepreneur dies at 76
  • She was most known for single "Pillow Talk"
  • Sylvia Robinson helped start Sugar Hill Records

(CNN) -- Sylvia Robinson, a singer-songwriter who went on to become a pioneer in the hip-hop music business, introducing the seminal "Rapper's Delight," died Thursday in New Jersey of congestive heart failure. She was 76.

Best known as an artist for 1973's sultry "Pillow Talk," Robinson was a "trendsetter" in music, publicist Lynn K. Hobson told CNN.

"She was known as the founder of hip-hop," Hobson said. "She was vibrant, with an over-the-top personality."

Robinson's singing, producing and songwriting career dated back to the 1950s, when she recorded as "Little Sylvia" and later as one half of the duo "Mickey & Sylvia." The team's hit "Love Is Strange," which hit the pop charts in early 1957 and reached No. 1 on the rhythm-and-blues chart, found new life three decades later in the 1987 movie "Dirty Dancing." She also produced "Love On a Two-Way Street" for the Moments in 1970.

Born Sylvia Vanterpool, Robinson and her late husband, Joe, founded Sugar Hill Records in 1979 and released the early hip hop hit, "Rapper's Delight," performed by the Sugar Hill Gang. Her eldest son, Joey, was a member of the group she formed.

The song, which adapted the musical track of Chic's "Good Times," began with the familiar lines, "I said a hip hop, a hippie, a hippie to the hip hip hop, you don't stop to rock it."

The label also signed Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, which had success in the 1980s, including the hit "The Message."

Kanye West and Alicia Keys are among the artists who sampled songs associated with Robinson, Hobson said.

The funeral is scheduled for October 11 at Community Baptist Church in Englewood, New Jersey.

"RIP to my grandmother," MTV personality Darnell Robinson, the entrepreneur's grandson, wrote on his Twitter account Thursday. "We lost Mommy Sylvia this morning but she will never be forgotten!"

CNN's Phil Gast contributed to this report.

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