Experience Regeneration's final month with Sugar Chile Robinson

Updated May 31, 2024

From the Director
From left to right: Judith Dolkart, Salvador Salort-Pons, Sugar Chile Robinson, Valerie Mercer, and Elliot Wilhelm.

From left to right: DIA Deputy Director of Art, Education and Programs Judith Dolkart; Director Salvador Salort-Pons; Frank "Sugar Chile" Robinson; exhibition co-curator, Curator and Department Head, African American Art, Valerie Mercer; exhibition co-curator and Curator of Film Elliot Wilhelm. 

June is the last month to visit our very successful show Regeneration Black Cinema 1898 – 1971. Almost 50,000 people have already seen it, and many school field trips have flooded the galleries to experience this extraordinary story of struggle and success. Thanks to the great work of our DIA team and Board of Directors, we are able to offer this exhibition free of charge with general admission to the museum, which is free for residents of Wayne, Macomb and Oakland counties. 

I have personally learned so much from this show. Perhaps the most inspiring moment was when I learned that one of the artists featured in the exhibition —considered in the 1950s to be the Eighth Wonder of the World,— is a lifelong Detroiter and currently lives in our very own neighborhood. His name is Frank “Sugar Chile” Robinson, and he was a “child star in the 1940s, reminiscent of the actress Shirley Temple. He was immensely popular, even living and playing in Europe as a child. He was born in Detroit, and his gift as a pianist was obvious early on. He was a child prodigy and appeared in Hollywood films […]. Over time, he vanished from the national scene, although he played in churches in Detroit. 

DIA board member, artist and Detroit living legend Marsha Battle Philpot (aka Marsha Music) wrote these words of praise. She was the one who pointed out to me the Detroit connections in the Regeneration promotional poster that reads: “ALL AMERICAN NEWS! SUGAR CHILE ROBINSON, THE EIGHTH WONDER OF THE WORLD. Furthermore, she shared with me that she knew Frank and that it would be an extraordinary moment to bring him to the DIA and walk through the exhibition with him. She was right. In April, with the help of Marsha’s friend, Larry King, we welcomed Sugar Chile and some of his family members to the museum to visit the Regeneration exhibition. It was a magical moment when Sugar Chile posed next to his promotional poster and smiled, sharing with us some thoughts about his musical gift and his world-famous performances. We were all transported back in time, bringing the exhibition to life like no one else has experienced it.

“When my mother and father came up [to Detroit] from the south, they brought an upright piano with them,” he shared. “While my mother was cooking and cleaning the house, I would always bang on the piano, until finally, when I was listening to the radio, I could copy whatever I heard.” 

Between taking photos and video to immortalize the moment, we heard his insights, stories and jokes. At one point, someone asked him, “Why did they call you the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World?” Without missing a beat, he replied: “Because there were already seven.” 

Following Masha Music’s advice, we have invited Sugar Chile Robinson to perform at the DIA’s auditorium. On June 22 at 7 p.m. he will be performing before we play the film Stormy Weather. It will be the last weekend that Regeneration will be on view at the DIA. And to celebrate this magnificent show and history, we will have no less than The Eighth Wonder of the World on stage. It only happens in Detroit.

Regeneration: Black Cinema 1898 – 1971 is organized by the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. 

At the Detroit Institute of Arts, lead support is generously provided by The Gilbert Family Foundation. Major support is provided by JPMorgan Chase & Co. Additional support is provided by the DTE Foundation and Amazon.