Sugar Chile Robinson

Frank Isaac Robinson (born December 28, 1938), known in his early musical career as Sugar Chile Robinson, is an American jazz pianist and singer who became famous as a child prodigy.[1]

Sugar Chile Robinson
Robinson, ca. 1950
Background information
Birth nameFrank Isaac Robinson
Born (1938-12-28) December 28, 1938
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
GenresBlues, boogie-woogie
LabelsCapitol Records


Robinson was born in Detroit, Michigan. At an early age he showed unusual gifts singing the blues and accompanying himself on the piano.[2] According to contemporary newsreels, he was self-taught and managed to use techniques including slapping the keys with elbows and fists.[3] He won a talent show at the Paradise Theatre in Detroit at the age of three, and in 1945 played guest spots at the theatre with Lionel Hampton, who was prevented by child protection legislation from taking Robinson on tour with him. However, Robinson performed on radio with Hampton and Harry "The Hipster" Gibson, and also appeared as himself in the Hollywood film No Leave, No Love, starring Van Johnson and Keenan Wynn.[4]

In 1946, he played for President Harry S. Truman at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, shouting out "How'm I Doin', Mr. President?" – which became his catchphrase – during his performance of "Caldonia". He was the first African American performer to appear at the annual WHCA dinner. He began touring major theaters, setting box office records in Detroit and California. In 1949 he was given special permission to join the American Federation of Musicians and record his first releases on Capitol Records, "Numbers Boogie" and "Caldonia", both reaching the Billboard R&B chart. In 1950, he toured and appeared on television with Count Basie and in a short film 'Sugar Chile' Robinson, Billie Holiday, Count Basie and His Sextet. The following year, he toured the UK, appearing at the London Palladium. He stopped recording in 1952, later explaining:[1]

I wanted to go to school... I wanted some school background in me and I asked my Dad if I could stop, and I went to school because I honestly wanted my college diploma.

Until 1956 he continued to make occasional appearances as a jazz musician, billed as Frank Robinson, and performed on one occasion with Gerry Mulligan, but then gave up his musical career entirely. Continuing his academic studies, he earned a degree in history from Olivet College and one in psychology from the Detroit Institute of Technology.[5] In the 1960s, he worked for WGPR-TV, and also helped set up small record labels in Detroit and opened a recording studio.[1]

In recent years he has made a comeback as a musician with the help of the American Music Research Foundation. In 2002, he appeared at a special concert celebrating Detroit music, and in 2007 he traveled to Britain to appear at a rock and roll weekend festival.[1] In the last Dr Boogie show of 2013, Sugar Chile Robinson was the featured artist, with four of his classic hits showcasing amid biographical sketches of his early career.[6] On April 30, 2016, he attended the White House Correspondents' Dinner on the 70th anniversary of his appearance at the 1946 dinner. He met President Obama and was saluted during the dinner, receiving a standing ovation as the picture of him as a child appeared on the video screens. In 2016 he was inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Music Hall of Fame.


  1. Penny, Dave. "Profile of Sugar Chile Robinson". Black Cat Rockabilly. Retrieved May 4, 2015.
  2. Collins, Fred (November 19, 1945). "'Sugar Chile' Robinson". Life: 19–20. ISSN 0024-3019.
  3. "Six-Year-Old Boogie-Woogie Piano King" on YouTube
  4. "Frankie 'Sugar Chile' Robinson Biography". AllMusic. All Media Network. Retrieved May 4, 2015.
  5. "Whatever Happened to..."Sugar Chile Robinson"". EBONY. June 1971. Retrieved October 29, 2018.
  6. de Paduwa, Walter (December 27, 2013). "Playlist for Dr Boogie". Doctor Boogie.

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