Groundbreaking trumpeter and singer Cynthia Robinson, a co-founder of the pivotal funk band Sly & The Family Stone, died Monday night at age 69. Her death was confirmed by her bandmate and friend Jerry Martini, another co-founder of the Family Stone.
In October, Robinson disclosed that she was suffering from cancer, in an online fundraiser launched to help defray her medical bills.
Robinson was an integral member of The Family Stone. It's her voice that urges fans to "Dance to the Music," and her horn that
blazed through the band's sets, from hits like "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" to lesser-known gems like "Underdog."
In a 2013 profile aired on Morning Edition, Robinson said that Sly Stone wanted the band to be a galvanizing social force. "He made things very simple: to stand for what you believe in," she said. "He knew how to touch upon subjects that meant something to masses of people."
Born in Sacramento in 1946 before moving to the Bay Area, Robinson joined Stone's band in 1966 — in an era when being a female trumpet player, and an African-American trumpeter in a major band, was a singular achievement. In an undated interview with WBGH, Robinson said that while she was growing up, other kids gave her a hard time about playing her instrument: "It left me with the impression that, you know, no guy in the world would let a girl play the trumpet in his group."
Robinson had two daughters, Laura Marie and Sylvette Phunne Stone, the latter with Sly Stone. This July, Robinson and her daughter Phunne released the single "Do Yo Dance" with the Family Stone.
After Sly Stone & The Family Band dispersed in the late 1970s (partly due to Stone's drug abuse), Robinson and bandmates including saxophonist Jerry Martini continued to play together as The Family Stone. Robinson also played with such artists as Prince, George Clinton's Funkadelic, and Graham Central Station, led by former bassist for Sly and the Family Stone, Larry Graham.
In 1993, Sly and the Family Stone were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Many artists have written remembrances about the influential trumpeter on social media, but the one written by Roots drummer Questlove (Ahmir Khalib Thompson) really sums up Robinson's impact well:
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