What follows is a larger passage about Bobby Robinson that didn’t make it into The Big Payback. I’m running it here in its uncondensed version:

During World War II, Robinson was an Army corporal stationed in Hawaii. Nominally, he was in charge of coordinating entertainment for soldiers awaiting to be shipped off to battle in the Pacific, hiring big bands, singers and even a one-legged tap dancer. But Robinson made a killing on the side as a loan shark. By the time the war ended, Robinson had saved over $8,000 in the interest he charged to other servicemen. When the time came to return home to New York, Robinson refused to get on an airplane, instead choosing the safest route for him and his bundle of cash: a battleship. Halfway home, the boat hit a huge storm, and the steel hull shuddered as the ship was thrashed. Oh, me and all my money! Robinson thought as he imagined his ironic, watery grave.

Bobby Robinson, his ear for music, and his savings survived the trip, and in 1946, he became the first colored man to open his own shop on 125th Street. He called it “Bobby’s Happy House,” a record store he funded with $2500 of his wartime stash. In the 1950s, Bobby became one of the first Harlem entrepreneurs to seize on the doo-wop street culture, forming labels like Red Robin and Whirlin’ Disc. In the 1960s, he discovered Gladys Knight & The Pips and produced the first hits by King Curtis on a new label called Enjoy.