The last few years have seen a number of great losses in the world of R&B music. Many female vocalists in particular have made their transitions to another world: Ruth Brown, Teena Marie, and Dee Dee Warwick, just to name a few. On September 29, 2011, another great talent was added to that list: Sylvia Robinson. Like the aforementioned artists, Sylvia Robinson was a trendsetter, a groundbreaker, and a trooper through many phases of this business called music.
She began recording at age 14, stepped out as not only a singer, but also a guitarist, by age 18 (not an easy feat for any woman in the spotlight at that time, much less an African-American one!). In her early 30's, she launched her own record label. Over the ensuing decades, she would write, produce, and mix a number of influential hit records for herself and a myriad of other artists.Vocally speaking, Sylvia had something different to offer. Not a powerhouse belter, she made her musical mark as a sultry purveyor of song — whether the mode be sensual soul, gritty funk, pop, or blues. Her sensual approach is glowingly apparent in her trademark classic, "Pillow Talk," an oozing 1973 romp through the sheets which one might argue originated the quiet-storm format on soul radio. Sylvia originally wrote the seducing invitation to play for Al Green. When he passed on it, however, she didn't hesitate to put her own money on the line and take a chance by releasing it on her own Vibration Records. Although she had scored several successes as a songwriter by this point (The Moments' "Love on a a Two Way Street" and "Not on the Outside"), few realized that Sylvia possessed 20 years' worth of experience as a recording and performing artist by the time "Pillow Talk" started climbing the charts.
"Pillow Talk" accomplished more than the admirable feats of reaching #1 on Billboard's R&B chart and crossing over to #3 on the Pop chart. The record marked the first time a female artist had so brazenly expressed her sensuality over the airwaves. By the time Donna Summer came out with the erotic "Love to Love You Baby" two years later, the stage was set. Not to mention, the term "disco" was not yet in place as a genre name when Sylvia hit; but the bustling rhythmic backdrop of "Pillow Talk" undoubtedly played a role in creating its foundation.