Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Miss Family Robinson

It sucks that the only time I get to post anything is when someone passes away, but here I am again this afternoon with yet another memorial tribute to yet another fantastic musician who's gone to join the band in the big room.
Yesterday Cynthia Robinson, co-founder and trumpet player of Sly and the Family Stone, died of cancer at age 69. The woman who exhorted Planet Earth to GET ON UP AND DANCE TO THE MUSIC has left the building.
Yesterday afternoon, drummer Questlove from The Roots penned a tribute in which he referred to her as music's original hype-man (hype-person?), and describing how her vocal rejoinders to mainmen Sly and Freddie Stone in that group provided a great deal of the party-with-a-message vibe so crucial to the success of a band whose influence upon all music since sits just north of inestimable and just ahead of unquantifiable. Also, she could play the shit outta the horn.
The music we love is usually assumed to revolve around the names we know and the faces we recognize, but it's people like Cynthia who provide the glue and the chops on which the greatest and most lasting of musical constructs often hang. When the initial, classic core Family Stone splintered apart in 1971, Cynthia was the only one to remain with Sly, and she eventually reunited with slap-and-pop bass guru Larry Graham (there's a birthday honoree for another post) in his seminal funk aggregate Graham Central Station later on in the 1970s.
Players like Cynthia don't get enough of the kudos when it comes to recognition for their contributions, what with our culture driven as it is by big names and sweeping gestures. But it's people like her that make it all go and in a lot of ways make it what it is. When I was a little kid and Sly and the Family Stone would come on TV, it was Cynthia and Rose -- the two women -- that I would watch and pay attention to. I don't for a moment imagine that I was alone in that.
These woman paved the way, too, because it wasn't always that way. A racially-integrated, multi-gendered band was next to unheard of before Sly and Cynthia put it together. Today of course it's taken for granted and the music industry is full of powerful superstar women who have the reins of their own careers, but back in the day things were a whole lot less diverse. 
It may sound far afield, but people like Cynthia Robinson are one big reason why, decades hence, people are in a position to look at the Taylor Swifts and the Lana Del Reys and accept them as the natural part of the musical landscape that they are. Generations ago, it wasn't always so inclusive for a woman in the industry, dominated as it was and still is by some of the most unethical sausages ever to roam the Earth. Prime movers like Cynthia Robinson are one reason that situation has evolved some from those darker days. Obviously there's a lot further to go, but if not for these folks we'd be a lot way further behind.
So to commemorate the passing of this lovely, brass-blasting lady I have dug out an exquisite PAL DVD -- the first HD Video I have ever shared here -- of Sly and Company on the European TV show "Swing In" from the sweaty, seminal summer of 1970. This is a full half hour of this group on their particular brand of fire and I'd advise that it is certainly not to be missed, as we will so miss Cynthia.
Sly & the Family Stone
"Swing In"
The Lyceum
London, UK

01 My Lady
02 Sing a Simple Song
03 Stand!
04 Everyday People
05 Dance to the Music
06 Music Lover/I Want to Take You Higher

Total time: 27:24

Sly Stone - vocals, organ, guitar, bass guitar, piano, harmonica
Freddie Stone - vocals, guitar
Cynthia Robinson - trumpet, vocals
Jerry Martini - saxophone
Larry Graham - vocals, bass guitar
Gregg Errico - drums
Rose Stone - vocals, piano, electric piano

HD PAL DVD from the pre-broadcast tapes
All right, I will be back Friday and Saturday with two more wildly eclectic posts for November... I wish you all a tremendous Thanksgiving and remind you, should you need to be reminded, to keep Cynthia Robinson -- a world-changing woman despite the fact that many don't know her name or who that lady with the trumpet was -- and all her many families in your thoughts.--J.
1.12.1946 - 11.23.2015

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