When Cynthia Robinson tooted her own horn, the world stood in awe. And Monday, the world lost one of its greatest trumpet players. Robinson died at the age of 69 after a battle with cancer, according to a post on her Facebook page.
For nine years, Robinson was considered Sly Stone’s “hype woman,” but she was more than that, especially when it came to being a trailblazer. Robinson was one of the first black women to play the trumpet in a major band. And the fact that she played and sang with one of the greatest bands ever adds even more weight to her name.
In an interview from the early ’90s, Robinson spoke about how it wasn’t easy picking up the trumpet as a kid.
“Well, in school, um, kids didn’t, uh, uh, favor it, I guess, because the guys played the saxophones and the trumpets and the drums. And the girls and guys would play other reed instruments and so forth, but usually they get, they just gave me a hard time about playing trumpet,” Robinson stated.
But that didn’t deter Robinson, and she said she sensed that some of the guys she played with when she was younger had issues because she was better than they were.
“And I think one of the main reasons really wasn’t a guy thing, it was a friend thing. Maybe if we had a challenge, a horn challenge, and his friend who didn’t practice as well, as often, I might beat him out, so I’m sitting in between them, and that kinda upset them because then they couldn’t chit-chat and so forth. But it left me with the impression that, you know, no guy in the world would let a girl play the trumpet in his group. So I just decided, well, I’ll just go to Sax City and take some music courses because I still wanted to play, you know,” Robinson continued.
In a 2013 interview, Robinson said she became better acquainted with Stone after her mother noticed a guitar in his car.
One day he was driving down our street with some friends and he pulled over. I walked over to talk to him, and my mom came out of the house. She saw a guitar in the backseat. She played guitar, but I didn’t know that for a number of years! She asked, “Whose guitar is that?” and Sly said it was his. She asked him to come in and play, but he couldn’t because his cable was broken. She said, “Wait right here,” walked to Tower Records, and bought a cable on the spot! She gave it to him and said, “Now you better be able to play.” Sly and his friends came in—a tall fellow named Daryl, a singer named Jimmy Terrell, and Sly on guitar—and played a song. My mom wanted me to get my mellophone, but I didn’t feel like I could play with them because I didn’t know the latest songs. I joined the band about five years later.
Robinson was picked to join Stone’s band in 1967, and that musical relationship birthed not only six albums but also a daughter, Phunne Stone.
Robinson’s loyalty to Stone and the band was evident after the band broke up in 1975. Robinson was one of the few original members who continued to play with Stone. Robinson also played with former Family Stone member Larry Graham’s band, Graham Central Station.
As recently as this summer, Robinson was on tour with the Family Stone, and Sly Stone made an appearance.
Fans have shown an outpouring of support for Robinson on social media, from tweets from journalists who’d interviewed her to memories shared by George Clinton.
Robinson is survived by her two daughters, Phunne and Laura Marie, as well as the remaining members of the Family Stone. It’s safe to say that Robinson will be missed and her dynamic music will live on.