Frank Isaac Robinson who was popularly known in his early musical career as Sugar Chile Robinson, is an American jazz pianist and singer. He was born on December 28, 1938, and became famous as a child prodigy. Chile was born in Detroit, Michigan. He showed exceptional gifts singing the blues and accompanying himself on the piano at an early age. That is what made him popular as a prodigy.
A Self Taught Prodigy
According to contemporary newsreels, Robinson was a self-taught prodigy who managed to use techniques, such as slapping the keys with elbows and fists. When he was three, he became the winner of a talent show. In 1945, he played guest spots at the theatre with Lionel Hampton. The child protection legislation prevented him from taking Robinson on tour with him. However, Robinson gave a performance on the radio with Hampton and Harry “The Hipster” Gibson. He also made an appearance as himself in the Hollywood film No Leave, No Love, starring Van Johnson and Keenan Wynn.
In 1946, he played at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner for President Harry S. Truman, shouting out “How’m I Doin’, Mr. President?” It later became his catchphrase during his performance of “Caledonia”. Moreover, Robinson was the first African American performer to appear at the annual WHCA dinner. He started touring major theaters, setting box office records in Detroit and California.
In 1949 Robinson got special permission to join the American Federation of Musicians and record his first releases on Capitol Records, “Numbers Boogie” and “Caldonia”. Both of these were reaching the Billboard R&B chart. Moreover, in 1950, he made a TV appearance with Count Basie and in a short film ‘Sugar Chile’ Robinson, Billie Holiday, Count Basie and His Sextet. The very next year, he went to the United Kingdom, appearing at the London Palladium.
Musical Career Of Sugar Chile Robinson
Until 1956 he was making occasional appearances as a jazz musician. He also performed on one occasion with Gerry Mulligan but gave up his musical career entirely after that. Continuing his academic studies, he got a degree in history from Olivet College and one in psychology from the Detroit Institute of Technology. He worked for WGPR-TV in the 1960s.
Sugar Chile Robinson has now made a comeback as a musician with the help of the American Music Research Foundation in recent years. In 2002, he made an appearance at a special concert celebrating Detroit music. Moreover, in 2007, he went to Britain to appear at a rock and roll weekend festival. In the Dr. Boogie show of 2013, Chile was the featured artist, with four of his classic hits showcased.
On April 30, 2016, Robinson attended the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on the 70th anniversary of his appearance at the dinner in 1946. He also met President Obama and got salute during the dinner. The year 2017 found him suffering from financial issues and having lost his belongings in a house fire.
The Music Maker Relief Foundation organization received a call from friends. They sent him a bed and put him on a monthly sustenance program. Buddy Smith helped him by sending a piano.