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SAVOY 816; AUGUST 1951



When men set out to advance in their profession through methodical determination they are described as “ambitious”. Oftentimes women doing the same are described as “pushy” or “calculating”.

The successful corporate climber represents an aspiration for those hoping to do the same, or those wishing they’d been able to do so once upon a time, but for those who did so by bucking the odds in a society designed to be closed off to them they represented a threat.

In 1951 Sylvia Vanderpool was just 15 years old, already a veteran of Columbia Records where she more than held her own on her initial recording sessions with major artists working with her like Hot Lips Page, and now she was moving to Savoy Records where she’d attempt to establish herself in a more rock friendly environment than a stuffy pop label.

It might be hard to claim a girl in her mid-teens was plotting out her career so meticulously but let it be said that if she was… no guy in music ever did more effectively than her.


Where I Left Off
There’s no grand strategy involved when laying out how these reviews will go up… it’s a chronological history of rock after all which means August 1951 followed July 1951 which followed June. As we’re almost at the end of August it means that in a few days we’ll be covering September of 1951.

The ordering of records within a month is similarly non-eventful with record label numbering taking precedent and then filling in the gaps simply by trying to spread out the artists we have left as best we can by style and personnel (groups alternating with solo singer and instrumentalists, etc.).

The appearance of Sylvia Vanderpool on this day was no more exciting than that. It was the last Savoy release of the month numerically and so it was going to come towards the end of the reviews for August.

Yet by sheer coincidence this week Sylvia Vanderpool Robinson was FINALLY elected to The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame, a long overdue honor that typically (for them) comes a decade after she died… and 35 years after she was first eligible to be honored.

Making this so bittersweet is the fact that she may just be the single most talented all-around female figure in rock history… not that any ONE of her many individual talents – singing, songwriting, producing, guitar playing or running a company – would place her at the top of those singular categories, but nobody – male or female – mastered them all equally as well as she did.

It’s the broad scope of her achievements which makes her so unique – from a precocious teenager singing in a style well beyond her years to owning and operating (not to mention writing and producing for) the first rap label, Sugarhill, which earned her the rightful title The Mother Of Hip-Hop, Sylvia truly did it all.

Did she plan this from the beginning? Maybe not, but each stop along the way she never was content with simply what she was doing then, she always had an eye on what she might do next.

Little Boy finds her taking that next step already, trying to craft an more durable image than was probably expected of her by the company who were calling her Little Sylvia after she’d used her full name on her Columbia releases.

But one listen shows that there’s nothing little about her talent.

Why Should I Be Worried
While her early performances are all good, even without compensating for her age, it wouldn’t be until late 1956 and into 1957 until Sylvia Vanderpool really captured the public’s attention when she and Mickey Baker scored their biggest hits as a duo.

Though you might be inclined to say that she required a little more seasoning as a performer to reach that point, or that she benefited from the presence of the greatest guitarist of rock’s first decade to balance her out somehow, the truth of the matter is… maybe she was just ahead of her time from the start because Little Boy sounds an awful lot like a track from 1957 as opposed to one from 1951 and it could just be listeners needed that time to catch up.

That’s not to say the arrangement is ahead of its time, or that even what Sylvia herself is doing is something all that original here, but rather there’s just a slyly vivacious musical spirit that one associates more with the rock ‘n’ roll from later in the decade, something accentuated by the perky melody and the way Sylvia teases her way through the vocals while still retaining musical credibility.

It’s an easy-going song on its surface, not written to push too hard on the deep feelings the lyrics are skirting, probably designed to play into Sylvia’s youth and presumed innocence, but if that’s the case she’s not quite on board with those plans as she imparts this with a much more worldly view on her own.

The plot itself is simple – she’s been dumped by a guy and isn’t happy about it. As rock progressed over the next couple of years the charts were rife with songs about teenagers facing the pangs of relationships that were bound never to last and in most of them the hurt was presented as being a passing thing. She doesn’t upend that part of the song, but she makes it clear she won’t be crying about the breakup because she might be too busy with something else.

Not another guy exactly, but instead she zeroes in on selling the underlying retribution aspect contained in the vague and somewhat generic lyrics.

I sincerely doubt she’s going to burn his house down, but she makes it clear by her delivery that he’ll regret it. That she conveys this with what you perceive to be a slight grin on her face makes the possibilities much more intriguing to consider than anything the writers intended with this otherwise innocuous song.

Listen to the way she draws out the lines without breaking character, especially her vow “You’ll never see me… Little boy, then you’ll be freeeeeeeee”, which makes it sound positively threatening and yet nobody in the studio could possibly say she wasn’t following the song’s game plan. She’s chirpy, not menacing, the lyrics CAN still be taken as a typical “grin and bear it” response to a teenage split, yet hearing it gives you pause all the same.

In doing so she takes a fairly lightweight song and beefs it up with little more than intelligence, a subversive attitude and innuendo.

In a way she was producing records already.

Start All Over Again
Savoy Records were clearly trying to position her as their replacement for Little Esther, right down to the fact they tagged her the same way on the label.

They must’ve figured that since Johnny Otis hadn’t yet come up with a credible substitute for their number one star of the previous year, choosing instead to try slightly older female singers in her place, that the company themselves would have to take matters into their own hands.

Focusing on the most obvious attributes – their respective ages and the way they were billed – they probably saw Sylvia as a someone they could build up, yet more or less control, since she wouldn’t be under the direction of Otis. While that might seem risky since Johnny’s track record as a writer and producer, not to mention overseeing the best band around, was unassailable, it’s not like Savoy didn’t have the means to hire quality musicians, saxophonist Heywood Henry was hardly a slouch and does a credible job with Little Boy, horns, guitar and a steady beat creating a very pleasant sounding record.

But maybe they didn’t count on a teenager with a mind of her own who was going to impart the songs she was handed with her own ideas even if she didn’t change a single word of the lyrics or alter the tempo or style they were using.

There are a lot of methods an artist could use to counter someone trying to package them a certain way, yet most of those were bound to be less effective the younger and more inexperienced you were. What always works though, no matter your position, is using your brains and that was something that Sylvia Vanderpool was blessed with from day one.


(Visit the Artist page of Sylvia Vanderpool for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)