Bobby Robinson, whose tiny record shop on Harlem‘s 125th St. spawned No. 1 national hits and made him an uptown patriarch for six decades, died yesterday. He was 93 and had been ill for several years – though he regularly went to work at his shop until it was forced to close in January 2008.
Impeccably dressed, well-spoken and ambitious to make his mark in the entertainment business, Robinson opened Bobby’s Happy House in 1946.
His shop was the first black-owned business on 125th St., and within five years he used it to launch a series of record labels.
Knight’s first hit, “Every Beat of My Heart,” was released on Robinson’s Fury label.
Robinson, a South Carolina native, had a No. 1 national hit in 1959 with Wilbert Harrison‘s “Kansas City” – and said years later that a hit of that magnitude crippled his business because he had to press so many copies he couldn’t promote any other artists.
But his Red Robin, Whirlin’ Disc, Fire, Fury and Enjoy labels became legendary in the rhythm and blues world, and his releases by artists like the Channels, Teenchords and Scarlets helped define the sound of the New York streets through the 1950s.
In the late 1970s, Robinson became one of the first label owners to record rap music, cutting artists like Flash, Doug E. Fresh and Spoonie Gee.
Robinson eventually had to move the shop around the corner in the late 1990s, and he closed for good on Jan. 21, 2008, when his new landlord decided to raze the building for a development.
“I’ve seen 125th St. at its best and worst,” Robinson said in late 2007. “And I’ll tell you, there’s no more exciting place in the world.”