on this day

January 7, 2011 Bobby Robinson died at age 93.

Robinson served in the US Army in World War II as an Army corporal stationed in Hawaii. Nominally, he was in charge of coordinating entertainment for soldiers awaiting to be shipped off to battle in the Pacific, hiring big bands, singers and even a one-legged tap dancer. But Robinson made a killing on the side as a loan shark. By the time the war ended, Robinson had saved over $8,000 in the interest he charged to other servicemen. When the time came to return home to New York, Robinson refused to get on an airplane, instead choosing the safest route for him and his bundle of cash: a battleship. Halfway home, the boat hit a huge storm, and the steel hull shuddered as the ship was thrashed. Oh, me and all my money! Robinson thought as he imagined his ironic, watery grave.Robinson, his ear for music, and his savings survived the trip, and in 1946, he became the first black man to open his own shop on 125th Street. He called it “Bobby’s Record Shop” (later “Bobby’s Happy House”), a record store he funded with $2500 of his wartime stash. Located on the corner of 125th St. and Frederick Douglass Boulevard (formerly, “8th Avenue”), his shop remained open until January 21, 2008, forced to close only because its landlord planned to raze the building for new construction.

Robinson’s store outlasted large chain store competitors, including HMV and the Wiz.The store became a focal point for the independent record producers establishing themselves in New York, and Robinson spent some time assisting Ahmet Ertegun at Atlantic Records. Robinson soon became one of the first Harlem entrepreneurs to seize on the doo-wop street culture, forming labels like Red Robin and Whirlin’ Disc. He produced his first recording, “Bobby’s Boogie” by saxophonist Morris Lane and his band, in 1951, but originally specialized in recording vocal groups including the Mello-Moods, the Rainbows, the Vocaleers and the Du-Droppers. However, he also recorded blues performers such as Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, and had his first major success with “Shake Baby Shake” by Champion Jack Dupree in 1953. The record was released on Red Robin Records, which Robinson had established the previous year, originally under the name Robin Records until forced to change the name after legal threats by another company.Having enjoyed healthy local sales with doo-wop and blues discs in the early-to-mid-1950s, he established several more record labels in the 1950s and 1960s, some in partnership with his brother, Danny Robinson.

January 7, 2011 Bobby Robinson died at age 93.

Among them were Whirlin’ Disc Records in 1956, Fury Records and Everlast Records in 1957, Fire Records in 1959, and Enjoy Records in 1962. He launched Fire and Fury as vehicles for rhythm and blues and rock and roll artists, most of which were produced by him in New York, but some were produced by others and acquired by him in various Southern cities.In the 1960s, he discovered Gladys Knight & The Pips and produced the first hits by King Curtis on a new label called Enjoy. Robinson produced numerous million-selling records by such notable performers as Wilbert Harrison, The Shirelles, Lee Dorsey, and Dave “Baby” Cortez, many of whom were signed to the label by A&R man Marshall Sehorn. One of his earliest hits was Harrison’s “Kansas City”, over which he faced legal action brought by Herman Lubinsky of Savoy Records, who claimed he had Harrison under contract. Robinson produced Gladys Knight & the Pips’ first hit “Every Beat of My Heart” (after he signed them to Fury; the original version was recorded in Atlanta, issued locally on Hintom and leased to Vee Jay, who had the bigger hit).

Robinson produced several of Elmore James’ greatest records as well as recordings by other leading blues musicians including Lightnin’ Hopkins, Arthur Crudup, and Buster Brown. King Curtis’s “Soul Twist” was the first release of his Enjoy label in 1962, and over twenty years later, he released the highly successful hit, “I’m The Packman (Eat Everything I Can)” by The Packman, on the same label. The rights to Robinson’s recordings on Fire and Fury were sold to Bell Records in 1965.Compilation album producer Diana Reid Haig wrote:”The common thread that connected all of Robinson’s various record labels was his uncanny ability to bring out the best in his artists. While most producers at that time attempted to soften the edges of rhythm & blues singers in hopes of appealing to the pop market, Robinson delighted in capturing raw-edged artists like Elmore James and Buster Brown just as they were.”In the 70s, Bobby was slow to realize the business potential of b-beats and MC groups, even though he’d seen the park parties and streetcorner rapping, clear parallels to doo-wop; even though his own nephew, Gabriel — whom everyone called Spoonie — rapped non-stop in Bobby’s apartment, much to the annoyance of Bobby’s wife. Ironically, Spoonie Gee’s first record, “Spoonin’ Rap,” was released by another Uptown record man named Peter Brown.

January 7, 2011 Bobby Robinson died at age 93.

Brown found Spoonie after walking into Bobby’s Happy House one night, shortly after the release of “Rapper’s Delight,” and announcing his intention to produce his own rap record to cash in on the phenomenon.It took both Spoonie’s record and the torrent of Sugar Hill Gang vinyl moving through his store to finally provoke Bobby to action. But unlike his old friend Sylvia, whose records he once sold out of his shop, Bobby Robinson didn’t create a rap group from scratch. Instead, he used his network of friends to learn a bit about the DJ and MC scene. Who’s the best at this stuff? Bobby asked. His scouts came back from The Bronx with two names: A group named the Funky Four Plus One More, and another crew who called themselves Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five.The 62-year-old Bobby Robinson cut a conspicuous profile at the back of the Bronx nightclub where he finally found Flash, who thought Bobby was either a cop, or a father on the lookout for his wayward daughter.

At the end of the night, after watching Flash and his MCs destroy the crowd, Bobby approached the DJ and proposed that they cut a record together.The two singles that came out of Bobby Robinson’s initial foray into rap in late 1979, “Rappin’ And Rockin’ The House” by the Funky Four Plus One More and “Superrappin’” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five , made Enjoy Records the first label to record reputable artists who had actually emerged from the DJ and MC culture. And while neither record approached the gargantuan success of “Rapper’s Delight,” each sold more than one-hundred thousand copies, a huge windfall for a small operation like Enjoy.In the months after “Rappers Delight,” other tiny labels and small entrepreneurs followed suit with a flurry of releases that mined the pool of established DJs and MCs from the Bronx and Harlem.

Paul Winley released two records from b-beat pioneer, Afrika Bambaataa, without much commercial success, leaving the Bronx DJ feeling burned. The owners of Club 371 put out a record with Eddie Cheba called “Looking Good (Shake Your Body).” Meanwhile, Cheba’s two closest contemporaries and the most successful “rapping DJs” in New York, DJ Hollywood and Lovebug Starski, were earning too much money on the local disco circuit to be bothered with making records.Robinson then went on to commercial success with other old school hip hop artists, including Pumpkin and Friends, the Funky Four Plus One More, Spoonie Gee (Robinson’s nephew), and Kool Moe Dee with the Treacherous Three.Robinson chalked up yet another success when he produced Doug E. Fresh’s “Just Having Fun (Do The Beatbox)”, which introduced beatboxing to the record-buying public.








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