Cynthia Robinson, one of the founding members of Sly and the Family Stone, has died of cancer. Ms. Robinson was 69.
Ms. Robinson played trumpet with the Family Stone and was known for her bigger-than-life afro, her lively dance moves, and her joyous performances. She is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where she was inducted along with the band in 1993; she was a musical and cultural pioneer.
She met Stone while she was still in high school, and recounts the story where she introduced Stone to her mother when she was growing up in Sacramento. As the story goes, Stone showed up to her house with a guitar, and Ms. Robinson’s mother implored him to play something. Stone demurred, complaining that his guitar was missing a string. Ms. Robinson’s mother told him to wait right there, rushed out to get an extra guitar string, came back and insisted that Stone play something.
Upon hearing a song, she deemed that Stone was not only good enough to date her daughter, he was good enough to play music with her daughter. The two linked a few years later in San Francisco and the band was born.
Ms. Robinson continued to play with the band into her final years, as she continued to boast a strong voice, skillful musicianship, and a fun stage presence. She was known for her catchy ad-libs and background vocals as much as her horn; she would famously yell at the crowd, “All squares go home!”
Ms. Robinson’s presence in the band represented a progressive time in the United States. Sly and the Family Stone was a racially integrated, mixed-gendered band during a time when racial unrest was at an all time high and gender relations were as rigid as ever. The group lead the swim against the oppressive current and created a wave of musicians to come, generations of musicians.
We see this type of movement happening with today’s multicultural millennial: the rise of international collaborations and the breaking down of old music and cultural structures.
For now, though, let’s celebrate her life by jamming out one more time to Cynthia Robinson and Sly and the Family Stone on Soul Train:
Illustration by Michael White.