A Piano-Playing Prodigy
Frank “Sugar Chile” Robinson was one of the first African American child stars to become a household name. Born in Detroit in 1938, he was a self-taught piano prodigy by the age of 3. At age seven, Sugar Chile performed for President Harry S. Truman at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. He was the first African American artist to ever be invited. When he was just a kid, Sugar Chile had a record deal, Billboard chart spots, a gig with Count Basie’s orchestra, and movie appearances. This huge success was also occurring at a time when very few African Americans were represented on the big screen.
In the 1950s, Sugar Chile put his piano aside, returned to school, and went on to pursue degrees in history and psychology. Though his fame faded, his legacy remained. In 2016, President Barack Obama invited him back to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner to celebrate 70 years since that first groundbreaking appearance. By that time, Frank was struggling with his health and finances, and had little left to his name after a devastating house fire. He returned from the White House to the small apartment he shared with his niece that had no beds, let alone a piano.
In 2017, Music Maker got word that Frank was days from eviction and struggling to get by. We reached out to Frank, shipped two beds to his home, and asked our supporters to help us find a keyboard for Frank. After all these years, Sugar Chile plays again.