“What I love about Beyoncé is that she is doing the damn thing and she’s doing it the way she wants to do it.”
For almost 30 years, legendary singer Robin S. has been one of the queens of dance music. The native New Yorker has thrilled audiences with her powerful vocal prowess, magnetic stage presence and her classic track “Show Me Love.”
Originally released in 1990 but remixed and released in 1993 from her debut album of the same name, “Show Me Love” reached number five on the Billboard Hot 100, number seven on the R&B chart, and number one on the dance club chart. The song has become a staple in dance and house music. Robin S.'s second single, "Luv 4 Luv" also went to number one on the Billboard Hot Dance Chart Play Chart.
Her second album From Now On showcased her versatility as a singer. The LP featured her singing Gospel, Contemporary R&B ballads as well as dance music. The album's first single, "It Must Be Love", became a hit, spending two weeks at No. 1 on the Hot Dance Club Play chart.
Since she emerged on the scene, Robin S. had been an in-demand touring artist and still performs across the world,
EBONY caught up with Robin S. and we spoke about creating “Show Me Love,” the resurgence of house music, how Black dance music is accepted across the world, and where she was when she first heard Beyonce’s “Break My Soul.”
EBONY: Do you remember what your first music memory was?
Robin S: Oh, yes, I do. It was Aretha Franklin. My personal experience with music happened when I was about 15. I had this album from Aretha Franklin called Sweet Passion. She had a song called “Meadows Of Springtime” that I loved! On another song called “Mumbles,” she scats the entire song and that blew me away. I was like, “Oh my God!” I've heard of the Ella Fitzgerald’s of the world, but that did it for me. We all listened to music first and were all music experts. Once we listen to the music, and we get that down, now we want to see what they're saying. So that thing right there,that scatting the whole time, it was beautiful.
How was the music scene in New York when you were coming up as a singer?
I'd play with a lot of cover bands around New York; I was with a band called The New York Syndicate. We used to play all over New York. I also played with merengue bands, so I was a cover singer that was doing all types of music. The closest I ever came to dance music was Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” and Michael Jackson's “Don't Stop til You Get Enough.” I would go to the clubs and I would dance but I wasn’t singing dance or house music at the time.
When you were recording “Show Me Love,” did you feel like it was going to be a big hit?
Not at the time. The version that became a hit didn't come out until after I recorded it. The original version was more of an R&B laid-back track.
I had the flu when I recorded that song so that's what people are hearing. They think they're hearing the passion but I was trying to get these notes out [Laughs}. Because I was so sick, and I had a fever and everything, I didn't want to record the song again so I pulled it from the tip of my toes, my back, and everything else. So that’s what people hear in the last few minutes of the song. When I hear it today, I’m always like, “You were really sick.” Because I don't sound like that normally. That's the passion and the feeling that people always tell me that they get from the song. It was the compassion for my soul.
Throughout your career, would you say you were pigeonholed by the industry as just a “dance artist?”
I did think that. Because of the label, I didn't want to sing the song a lot of times and I wanted to forget the words. But the change in my life came when people told me how the song impacted them. When women were walking up to me saying, “You saved my life.” I had LGBTQ+ people coming up to me saying, “You don't know what this song did for me.” At that point, it wasn't about me anymore; it wasn't about what I wanted to do. It was about the effect that the song had on other people's lives.
I’m a full-figured woman so you had to be a skinny Minnie for a label to put any backing behind you in those days. I was told that I had to lose weight. But when women came to me and said, “I didn't think I was worth anything because I’m heavy. I didn't think that I could have a life because I'm full-figured, and you saved my life because when I saw you doing what you do, and how you do it, I knew that there was a chance for me.”
In your estimation, what is the difference between the acceptance of dance music in America versus what you’ve experienced around the world?
Wow, so I love my people but let me just put that disclaimer out: We are a moment people. We love whatever is happening now. That's what we are. When I went overseas and I'm walking the streets, they were playing all the songs from my first album. Not a lot of people know those songs in the States. But when I went overseas, I performed those songs and the crowds knew them all. In the States, it's whatever radio puts in your ear and that’s what most folks gravitate to.
Were you aware that Beyoncé was going to sample “Show Me Love" in "Break My Love?”
I had no idea.
Where were you when you first heard “Break My Soul” and what was your initial response?
I was in the bed [Laughs]. My phone started pinging in early in the morning and I didn't pay it any mind because I thought it was just pinging. Then my phone started ringing and it wouldn't stop. It was one call after the other like a constant call. And it was my son and my daughter-in-law. I picked up the phone and I was like, “Why are you calling me like this? What's going on?” My son said, “ Mom, open up your phone. You're trending all over the place. I said, “Trending for what?” “Beyoncé just dropped her new song and it samples “Show Me Love,” he said. So I opened up the phone and I played it. When I first heard it, I didn’t know how I felt. I mean, it was all good feelings—don't get me wrong. I couldn’t believe that she chose my song with all the songs that she has access to. Nothing is by coincidence. It's all a divine order. “Show Me Love” is my legacy. I've done this for 30 years. But now “Show Me Love” is Beyoncé’s legacy. She is a part of my legacy and I'm now a part of her legacy.
How does it feel to have your music reach a brand new audience?
It's amazing. I think in music, we're all supposed to teach others, especially when we know we have God-given talent. We're supposed to teach one another how to do it. Aretha Franklin, Nancy Wilson and all of the other legends showed me what they knew. I put my seasoning on it, and those who listened to me and my era are showing what we do. And, they are taking it to the next level.
What I love about Beyoncé is that she is doing the damn thing and she's doing it the way she wants to do it. That's what it's all about. She took it to the next level. I’m so glad that I get to have my roses and my flowers while I'm alive.