Casting Call: Sylvia Robinson

Published August 28, 2014

In which we suggest who should star in the next big adaptation, remake, or historical film.

The “mother of hip-hop” Sylvia Robinson will be making the transition from the record player to the big screen, proving that the historical music film is alive and well on the heels of Chadwick Boseman’s Get On Up and, in previous years, Sparkle, Dreamgirls, and Cadillac Records. Last week, producer Paula Wagner acquired the film rights to the acclaimed singer and music executive’s life story from her son, Joey Robinson, who will also act as executive producer. The project is currently untitled, but it will draw on Robinson’s long and illustrious career, from her foundations as adolescent “Little Sylvia” to her success as a multi-hyphenate songwriter-producer-solo artist in the ’70s and ’80s.

Robinson was born as Sylvia Vanderpool in 1936 New York and began recording music just 14 years later, in 1950. Her duo with guitarist Mickey Baker resulted in her first major chart success in 1957—”Love is Strange,” which, yes, was an inspiration for Ira Sachs’ recent movie of the same name. But Mickey and Sylvia disbanded in 1959, when Sylvia married Joe Robinson and reignited her solo career as Sylvia Robbins.

It wasn’t until 1966, however, that Robinson showed herself as a true music powerhouse. In that year, she and Joe moved to New Jersey, where they launched All Platinum Records, a label devoted to soul music that sparked the emergence of The Moments, a group that landed on the charts in both the US and UK. All Platinum bought the bankrupted Chess Records in 1975. Wagner’s biopic is sure to overlap with other recent films about the R&B music scene like Cadillac Records, in which Chess Records founder Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody) figures centrally. Sylvia continued recording during this period and opened Sugar Hill Records in 1979. Under her watchful eye, Sugar Hill Records saw the rise of hip-hop (beginning with the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”) in the mainstream of American music, pioneered the concept of sampling tracks in its releases, and brought women to the forefront of a male-dominated genre.

While Robinson’s name may no longer immediately be in the pop-culture consciousness, her music has certainly has contemporary resonance—she’s been sampled by Pitbull, Jay Z, and Alicia Keys in the past decade. We have a couple of casting suggestions as the biopic gets underway, a series of names with the requisite song and screen skills to bring Robinson’s story into the limelight once again.

Casting Call runs every Friday. For more, click here.