It’s Monday here in Australia, so no wonder that my friend Scott sent me this peppy video of 8-year-old child prodigy, Frank ‘Sugar Chile’ Robinson, playing ‘Caldonia’ to a disbelieving audience of Van Johnson, Keenan Wynn and Patricia Kirkwood in M-G-M’s No Leave, No Love (1946).
Frank was tiny when he showed unusual gifts for singing the blues and playing the piano. Neither of his parents were musical but the family of nine did own a piano that had been left at the house by an aunt. The story goes ‘Sugar Chile’, who was the youngest of the seven children, would climb up onto the piano bench and taught himself to play what he heard on the radio.
At just three-years-old he won an under 18 talent contest — you can imagine everyone’s eyes popping out of their head when a toddler sat down at the piano and began to sing and play the blues. Naturally, he was in great demand to record and perform.
M-G-M offered Frank’s father a seven-year contract but he turned it down. The same year No Leave, No Love was released, Frank played ‘Caldonia’ for President Harry S. Truman at the White House. He famously shouted out, “How’m I Doin’, Mr President?”, which became his catchphrase.
By 1950, he was touring with Count Basie and appeared on television and in a short film Sugar Chile’ Robinson, Billie Holiday, Count Basie and His Sextet. The following year he played in the Enland, appearing at the London Palladium.
Sugar Chile was a sensation everywhere he went, but in 1952 he gave it all up. He later said he felt pulled in a diffrent direction:
“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.”
Clearly, he didn’t just have musical talents because young Frank finished high school at just 15-years-old, and would go on to receive a degree in psychology.
In 2002, with the help of the American Music Research Foundation, Frank ‘Sugarchile’ Robinson, then in his mid-60s, appeared at a special concert celebrating Detroit music.
In 2007, he traveled to England once again to appear at a rock and roll weekend festival. And in the last Dr Boogie show of 2013, Frank Robinson was the featured artist; four of his classic hits were showcased. I am not aware of any more recent performances.
You can read more about his life here: http://www.rockabilly.nl/…/messages/sugar_chile_robinson.htm
Here’s the Count Basie video clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYLaE4Gj1oA