Going strictly by the chart book, Sylvia Robinson was a one-hit wonder, hitting number three pop (and number one R&B) with her 1973 single "Pillow Talk," a slice of proto-disco bedroom funk. Few other one-hit wonders, however, had a career as multi-dimensional. For one thing, she was actually no stranger to the hit parade when "Pillow Talk" started to catch on. In the '50s, she'd been one-half of the rock & roll duo Mickey & Sylvia, remembered for eternity for their classic "Love Is Strange." As a one-named solo artist 15 years later, Sylvia would help lay the ground for disco, urban contemporary, and even rap with her cooing whispers and orgasmic sighs. Murmuring about romantic love with a seductive come-on that was pretty bawdy by early-'70s standards, she was the yin to Barry White's yang, if you will, offering a kinder, gentler brand of between-the-sheets soul from a feminine viewpoint. Unlike many of the singers who would follow a similar path, Sylvia was no producer's tool: she played guitar and co-wrote and co-produced most of her material, which was released on a record company run by her and her husband Joe. In the late '70s and early '80s, she would play a crucial role in the birth of rap as the co-founder of Sugar Hill Records. She was credited as the producer of many of the label's releases.
"Pillow Talk" began life as a song that Sylvia hoped to pitch to Al Green. After nothing came of that plan, she issued it herself on the Vibration label, an imprint of the All Platinum company that she had founded with her husband in the late '60s in New Jersey. It would be her only major pop crossover hit, but she did have a handful of small R&B hits in the mid-'70s in a similar vein, her hushed sexy whispers backed by laconic funk-c*m-disco grooves and occasional strings. Not nearly as risqué as Millie Jackson, this was nonetheless fairly forthright stuff for its era; when she pushed it to the limit, it could have passed for some of the milder routines on phone-sex lines. In this sense, she could be considered as a precursor not only to rap, but to R&B performers like Prince, who would make plainly stated lust a centerpiece of their compositions. While her Sugar Hill activities took most of her time by the '80s, she still found some time for recording, making the middle of the R&B charts again with a rap tune, "It's Good to Be the Queen." She passed away in 2011, at the age of 75. ~ Richie Unterberger, Rovi