with Alicia Mayer

Frank ‘Sugar Chile’ Robinson: The Child Prodigy Who Walked Away From It All

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 MGM’s ‘No Leave, No Love’ (1946).

sugar-chile-robinson-life-magazine-nov-19-1945-photo-2Frank 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 the age of 3 he won an under 18s talent contest – you can imagine everyone’s eyes popping out of their head when a toddler was sat down at the piano and began to sing and play the blues. Naturally, he was in great demand to record and perform.

MGM offered the boy’s father a 7-year contract but turned it down. The same year ‘No Leave, No Love’ was released, Frank played ‘Caldonia’ for President Harry S. Truman at the White House, and 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 UK, appearing at the London Palladium.

Frank was a sensation everywhere he went, but in 1952 he gave it all up.

“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, and would go on to receive a degree in psychology.

In 2002, with the help of the American Music Research Foundation, Frank ‘Sugarchile’ Robinson, now in his middle 60s, appeared at a special concert celebrating Detroit music. In 2007, he again traveled to Britain to appear at a rock and roll weekend festival. And in the last Dr Boogie show of 2013, Frank was the featured artist, and four of his classic hits were showcased. I am not aware of any more recent performances.

Contact me on my Facebook page if you know anything more.

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

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