Sugar Chile Robinson plays Motor City Blues & Boogie Woogie Festival


In 1945 Detroit’s Frank “Sugar Chile” Robinson lost a boogie woogie piano contest because he was too young to officially compete; he was six years old. By the age of eight he had performed with Lionel Hampton, played for President Truman at the White House, and appeared in the Hollywood movie “No Leave, No Love” with Van Johnson and Keenan Wynn. By the age of 12 he was one of the most famous entertainers in the country, regularly breaking box office records at theatres across the country and in Europe.


By the age of 15 Sugar Chile had all but disappeared and for the past 50 years music historians and boogie woogie affecionados have been asking, "Whatever happened to Sugar Chile?"


Thanks to the efforts of the American Music Research Foundation we now have not only the answer to that question but also Sugar Chile’s first major performance in a half century recorded on video tape. The AMRF is a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion, preservation, and documentation of American musical forms. It produces the annual Motor City Blues & Boogie Woogie Festival, records the performances and interviews with the artists for documentary purposes, and creates programming for public television that promotes the music and the artists. For AMRF Founder Ron Harwood and Director John Penney the footage of Sugar Chile is some of the most important ever captured for the AMRF’s extensive archive.


In 2003 Sugar Chile surfaced briefly for a performance at Southfield’s Millenium Theater. In 2006 his 1950 recording of “Go Boy Go!” was used in a television commercial for Dockers and the drumbeat in the boogie woogie community intensified, noting that he had been “spotted” in Detroit a couple of years earlier.


In early 2007 the Magic Bag’s Willie Wilson contacted Harwood to say that Sugar Chile had been booked for a festival in England and therefore might be willing to perform at the AMRF’s Annual Motor City Blues & Boogie Woogie Festival. Harwood and Penney met with Frank Robinson a couple of weeks later and after a long exploratory conversation he agreed to perform and be interviewed on camera. His single condition was that he be allowed to bring his church choir. “That was then, this is now” is the way he described his set, which would begin with the boogie woogie piano he played in his youth and end with the gospel music he now plays in church.


On October 6, 2007 Frank “Sugar Chile” Robinson returned to the stage of Detroit’s Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts, one of the first he had ever played on as a child. As he moved from the “then” portion of his set to “now” he answered the 50 year old question:


“I started out so young I really had no childhood...and I wanted to stop entertaining because I wanted a thorough education. I was raised in show business with a tutor. And the tutor taught school. So when he was in school teaching, all my friends were in school too...and when he came to the house they were out playing, and I was in school. I had to make a decision about whether to keep entertaining or to get an education. And that’s what I did. That’s the reason why you didn’t hear from Sugar Chile in a long time.”


Frank Robinson earned a PhD in Psychology from the University of Michigan and has lived quietly in Detroit  ever since. He will perform at the Rhythm Riot Festival in Cambor, England Thanksgiving weekend. The television program containing his performance and interview during the 9th Annual Motor City Blues & Boogie Woogie Festival will be released in 2008.


CONTACT: MATT LEE:  248-584-3715







Artists  Boogie Woogie  
In order to post a message, you must be logged in
message date / author

There are no comments available.

In order to post a message, you must be logged in