Artist and Musician Biographies


Here is a YouTube mix of music by The Sugarhill Gang.

Coming from the Bronx in New York City in 1979, the Sugarhill Gang jumped over the metaphorical walls of the inner city and into the realm of the mainstream with the first worldwide rap hit, "Rapper's Delight" (1979). Although rap and hip-hop music had existed for quite a few years prior to the Sugarhill Gang's rise to fame, it had failed to move beyond of the African American community, in the 1960s and 1970s. Though disputed by some, many still believe the Sugarhill Gang to be the first professional rap group because they brought this "new" style of music to the general public.

Hip-Hop and Rap, which originated in the 1960's in and around New York, developed among black people who often gathered on sweltering summer nights in the streets and on the rooftops to take part in block parties. While the Sugarhill Gang may be considered the first rap group, much of their music style lends itself to the sounds of hip-hop. The music and dance of the block parties, which were directed by a number of local DJs evolved into the hip-hop culture that we know today.

The Sugarhill Gang was discovered by a woman who saw value in this culture, the rhythm and blues singer and owner of Sugarhill Records, Sylvia Robinson. She had the insight to realize that there would be a market for the type of music played by the rookie DJs on the streets of the Bronx.

In 1979, Robinson took Michael Wright, a furniture mover and painter, Guy O'Brien, and Henry Jackson, a football player from Texas Tech University and dubbed them the Sugarhill Gang. The group was named after Robinson's fledgling record label, Sugarhill. The three gentlemen took on the names they are more commonly known as, Wonder Mike, Master Gee (O'Brien would later be replaced by Joey Robinson Jr.) and Big Bank Hank, respectively.

They soon surprised the world with their hit, "Rapper's Delight," which sampled (or borrowed) the baseline from Chic's song "Good Times," in 1979. The sudden popularity of this new rap music led those in the media to speculate that this musical style would be only a passing fad. But as we can see today, rap and hip-hop continue to grow in popularity. While "Rapper's Delight" was the group's only phenomenal hit, it sold over 8 million copies and helped to pave the way for future aspiring rappers while bringing Hip Hop cultural practices into the mainstream to a wider audience.

The group had a few other minor successes with "Apache" and "8th Wonder" before The Sugarhill Gang disbanded in 1985. However, they returned in 1994 to perform at VIBE's one-year anniversary blowout, dazzling a crowd that included Treach, of Naughty By Nature, L.L. Cool J and Heavy D.

This performance sparked a new interest in what is usually termed "Old School" Rap that we are still experiencing today. Many of the rap songs of the 1980s are still heard on a regular basis on our local radio stations. As for the members of the Sugarhill Gang, they produced with a children's album, Jump On It, in 1999. On a more personal level, Big Bank Hank (Henry Jackson), who has already received his bachelor's degree in Oceanography, planned to pursued his Ph.D. in the subject and aspires to follow in the footsteps of his hero, Jacques Cousteau.

Although the Sugarhill Gang does not bear much resemblance to the "Gangsta' Rappers" that followed them, the group seemed to personify the ideals of a Hip-Hop culture that has no tolerance for crime. Their influence on all aspects of rap music has been tremendous, because they took rap to the mainstream.

Page author: N.G. & C.F.