Go Boy Go ! Sugar Chile Robinson©2006JCMarion


In the fall season of 2006 and early 2007 some strange sounds began to be heard on television promoting varied products for the capitalistic consumers of this country. Nothing wrong with that, so I enjoyed hearing Professor Longhair's "Mardi Gras In New Orleans" plugging the commercial rebirth of that city after the Hurricane Katrina debacle. Then to my delight and surprise came the pitch for the Hummer driven by Ruth Brown's "This Little Girl's Gone Rockin". The blast of the "Wella-Wella-Wella" intro to the tune by Ruthie almost drove me to purchase one of those gas guzzling behemoths. And how about the Doubletree Hotel ad with Dinah Washington's "Relax Max" (no it was not Eartha Kitt !). Then came Dockers-always with some of my favorite commercials (the opposing streetcar romantic interlude, etc.) with the jumping refrain of "Go Boy Go". Everyone wanted to know "who is that singing?". Some of the guesses were great - Julia Lee, Nellie Lutcher, and one R & B fanatic maintained it was Gladys "Glad Rags" Patrick ! What, no Mitzi Mars ? Well by now you must know that it is none other than boogie woogie child prodigy "Sugar Chile" Robinson ! Thinking back I realized that "Chile's" history was one of the more strange and compelling around. There is not much information out there so I will try to fill in some of the empty spaces.

He was born Frankie Robinson in Detroit, Michigan in 1940. As a young child he developed an affinity for the piano beginning to pick out songs that he heard at the age of three. At the age of five he was "discovered" by bandleader and pianist Frankie Carle. Carle had a number of hit records, many with vocals by his daughter Marjorie Hughes, and was presiding over an amateur talent night at the Michigan Theater. "Sugar Chile" was the winner of the talent contest, and one of the losers to Robinson was a young pianist named Berry Gordy. That same year Robinson appeared on musical shows for the Armed Forces Radio Service, including playing duets with Harry "The Hipster" Gibson. In 1946 "Sugar Chile" hit the ivories in the motion picture "No Leave No Love" with Van Johnson and Guy Lombardo for MGM. With this boost Robinson became a true child prodigy appearing at the White House with President Truman and his budding pianist daughter, Margaret in 1947. Soon to follow was a tour with the Lionel Hampton band and a chance to record for the Capitol label. He scored with "Numbers Boogie" / "After School" and his version of Louis Jordan's hit song "Caldonia" and "Vooey Vooey Vay" (# 756) in 1949. In 1950 another child prodigy on the R & B scene arose named PeeWee Barnum, and the inevitable comparisons were made. Robinson began to attract great attention on the tour circuit. In march of 1950 he did huge box office at Chicago's Oriental Theater. In April Robinson is signed for a motion picture to be called "Teenage Music Town". Capitol is pushing the new Robinson record called "Bouncing Ball Boogie" / "Say Little Girl" on # 897. In July "The Bases Were Loaded" and "Sticks And Stones" by Robinson is released on Capitol # 1060. Late in the summer "Sugar Chile" appears with the Count Basie Sextet and Damita Jo at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles. Robinson is featured as part of the television special "Star Spangled Revue". Capitol Records releases the seasonal tunes "Christmas Boogie" and "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer" by Robinson. The session featured long time drummer at Chicago's Club DeLisa, Red Saunders.

In February of 1951 Capitol issues "I'll Eat My Spinach" and "Broken Down Piano" on # 1386. In May " (Rock-A-Bye) Baby Blues" and "The Donkey Song" are released by Capitol on # 1526. Robinson does radio and television spots with a well received appearance with Bob Hope for his final show of the 1951 TV season. In June Robinson plays a week at the Carousel Club in Pittsburgh, and then to Havana, Cuba for two weeks at the Tropicana. Then it will be off to Europe for two months including the London Palladium. Robinson films a musical short with the Count Basie Sextet and Billie Holiday. In the spring of 1952, "Sugar Chile" appears with The Griffin Brothers for a week at Philadelphia's Earle Theater. During the summer of the year Robinson released his final record for Capitol-then it was over. But - In August of 1954 "Sugar Chile" was back, this time at Chicago's jazz club The Blue Note along with baritone saxist Gerry Mulligan. That was the last mention of Robinson in the trade press. He was heard no more.

Legend (or maybe the true story) has Robinson spending the ensuing fifty some years in musical obscurity, working outside the field. He was thought to have a part in the establishment of Lendo Records in Detroit in the early sixties. There is also a report of his re-discovery and a turn at the piano in public, but - who knows ? As far as Dockers clothing is concerned, "Go Boy Go" is music to their ears - and a nice rediscovery of a marvelous talent unheard for too many years. There is the "Sugar Chile Robinson" cd on Jazz Classics (from France) with 24 tracks including, of course, "Go Boy Go".

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