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Album Review

Like Shirley Temple or Bobby Driscoll, Frankie "Sugar Chile" Robinson started out as a talented tot and soon found himself wedged into a performing career that was conspicuously contingent upon the impossible act of remaining young and precocious. Unlike Temple, who nevertheless grew into an attractive adult woman, or Driscoll — ditched by Disney, on the skids, and dead from narcotics at the age of 30 — boogie-woogie pianist Sugar Chile Robinson sizzled in the limelight for about three years and then apparently opted for a more private lifestyle. Classics No. 5052 contains all of his studio recordings, beginning with four titles cut when he was only nine years old. There are quite a number of enjoyable passages once the ear grows accustomed to the kid's shrill voice. Some say Robinson was a midget rather than a child prodigy, but that is foolish and unfair. He was musically gifted at an early age and quickly developed into a skilled entertainer. One slight problem, as usual, lay in certain choices made by the individuals who wrote his material and/or acted as his adult manager(s). Nearly half of the songs on this disc are deliberately puerile material. "After School Blues," "Bouncing Ball Boogie," "Sticks and Stones," and the Shirley Temple trope "I'll Eat My Spinach" were designed to fully exploit the age of the performer, as were the two Christmas tunes, which incidentally sold quite well and precipitated the boy's European tour in 1951. "The Donkey Song" is quite funny, while "The Hunkie Man" appears to be about ice cream but could sound to postmodern ears as though the lad were singing about a Caucasian. Musically speaking, "Vooey, Vooey Vay" shows off little Frankie's fine boogie-woogie piano and his remarkably developed scat singing. Two Louis Jordan covers — "Caldonia" and "The Green Grass Grows All Around" — turned out well. Only four of Frankie's backing musicians have been identified, the most famous being ace jazz drummer Zutty Singleton, who is heard on the first four tracks with bassist Leonard Bibbs. Jimmy Richardson and Red Saunders play behind the pianist on tracks five through eight and an unnamed tenor saxophonist shows up on tracks 13 through 16. The rest of the bassists and drummers in Robinson's discography remain anonymous. The last eight selections, recorded in June of 1952, give a tantalizing taste of where this young fellow was headed as a musician before he quit the scene. "Lazy Boy's Boogie" is an expertly executed smooth instrumental, while "Whop, Whop" and "Go, Boy, Go" are steamers. Robinson plays cool organ on "Detroit Rag" — not a rag but really a cool blue shuffle — and on a fine boogie version of "St. Louis Blues" with Caribbean-style kit drumming during the intro. Robinson's "Yancey Special" ambles with slow and purposeful dignity and he sings wordlessly while spooling out a slow blues on the celeste during "Hum-Drum Boogie," which isn't really a boogie at all. Although just on the verge of developing into a first-rate improviser, Sugar Chile Robinson stopped making records in 1952. Maybe his public image was starting to wear on him. A revealing passage occurs near the beginning of "Frustration Boogie," where he complains of being "too old for cowboy movies, too young to chase those pretty chicks."

1949-1952, Sugar Chile Robinson
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