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4 Inspiring Things You Should Know About Self-Taught Pianist Frank ‘Sugar Chile’ Robinson

4 Inspiring Things You Should Know About Self-Taught Pianist Frank ‘Sugar Chile’ Robinson

He deserves all his flowers!

Born Frank Isaac Robinson on December 28, 1938 in Detroit, Michigan, he became known professionally as “Sugar Chile” Robinson, the Global Child Prodigy Awards reports. To celebrate his legacy, here are 4 inspiring things you should know about self-taught pianist Frank ‘Sugar Chile’ Robinson:


He was thrust into stardom when he was just a child.

Robinson showed an exceptional knack for singing and playing the piano when he was just a young child. He was self-taught and eventually labeled a prodigy, using a variety of piano-playing techniques that helped him stand out in the industry, including playing with his elbows and fists. He won one of his first talent shows when he was just three years old. By 1945, he was playing guest spots at a regular theater with jazz player Lionel Hampton. 

Child protection laws prevented Robinson from touring with Hampton, but he did perform on the radio with him alongside Harry “The Hipster” Gibson. His rounds helped to grow his name, and he got an appearance in a Hollywood film featuring Van Johnson and Keenan Wynn called “No Leave, No Love,” where he played himself. 

He made history as the first Black performer at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

In 1946, when Robinson was just 7 years old, he got the opportunity of a lifetime, playing at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner for President Harry S. Truman. According to The Atlantic, Robinson broke barriers, making history as the first Black person to ever perform at the prestigious event. He is remembered for shouting “How’m I Doin’, Mr. President?,” a line that later became a catchphrase during his “Caledonia” performance. 

At the time, Robinson said no one ever told him he had made history, but sure enough, his work as a child paved the way for a host of entertainers to follow, including Duke Ellington; Nat King Cole; Dizzy Gillespie; Aretha Franklin; Godfrey Cambridge; Mahalia Jackson; Count Basie; Sinbad; Ray Charles; Cedric the Entertainer; Wanda Sykes; Oscar Papa Celestin; the tap-dancing Step Brothers; drummer Samuel Baby Lovett and blues singer Julia Lee.

 He was signed to a record label and toured across the globe.

After his history-making performance, Robinson began booking gigs nationally, touring major theaters, and setting box office records. He joined the American Federation of Musicians in 1949 and recorded his first releases, “Caldonia” and “Numbers Boogie,” on Capitol Records. Both reached the R&B Billboard chart and, the following year, he made a TV appearance with Count Basie and worked on a short film entitled “Sugar Chile Robinson, Billie Holiday, Count Basie and His Sextet." He then began touring internationally, appearing at the London Palladium.


He left a memorable legacy.

The Detroit native continued to perform as a jazz musician up until 1956, leaving behind his musical career for academic pursuits. He earned his degree in history from Olivet College and a degree in psychology from the Detroit Institute of Technology, working for WGPR-TV during the 1960s. Over the years he has made some appearances, performing at a special concert in 2002 honoring Detroit music and another in 2007, where he performed at a rock and roll weekend festival in Britain. In 2016, Robinson’s career came full circle, the child prodigy returning to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in honor of its 70th anniversary. Comedian Larry Wilmore hosted that particular dinner when Forever President Barack Obama was still in office. The event was a reminder to Robinson of all that he’d accomplished and all that his work helped create. These days, he’s still making music and while success has been a rollercoaster over the years for the once-renowned child prodigy, his legacy is forever and he undoubtedly paved the way for many artists today. 

In honor of Robinson’s recent 85th birthday and all that he’s done, we pay homage. Because of Sugar Chile Robinson, we can!

4 inspiring things you should know about self-taught pianist Frank ‘Sugar Chile’ Robinson. Photo Courtesy of Gilles Petard/Redferns/Frank ‘Sugar Chile’ Robinson/Music Maker