*Big Bank Hank (Henry Jackson) stopped by to talk with me on my show “Topically Yours” on Blakeradio.com, Rainbow Soul, about his upcoming performance at Lehman Center for the Performing Arts, located at 250 Bedford Park Blvd West, in the Bronx, where he and the rest of the Sugarhill Gang, Wonder Mike (Mike Wright) and Master Gee (Guy O’Brien) will be performing as part of Sal Abbatiello (Fever Records) FOREVER FREESTYLE5 on Saturday, March 19 at 8:00 p.m.
Via Forever Freestyle5 audiences will once again be treated to the club sound of the 1980s and the hottest artist of that era of Latin-flavored dance music. Featured artists include TKA/K7, Judy Torres, Brenda K Starr, George Lamond, Coro, Soave, Tony Moran from the Latin Rascals; Lisette Melendez and the Cover Girls. Hosted by Speedy, DJ Lucho will be spinning the tunes while comedian Mark Viera provides the laughter.
“I’m from the Bronx, so I am looking forward to performing before my homies. I’ll keep it live in the house. The rest of the group is from New Jersey” commented Big Bank Hank, whose group was one of the first rappers to put rap on wax and introduce the rap genre to the world.
Best known for their 16 minute multi-platinum hit single “Rapper’s Delight,” (recorded in 1979) which sold over ten million copies, went #4 on the R&B chart, and became the highest selling 12 inch single ever. The Sugarhill Gang recorded several singles. Their most success included “8th Wonder” which reached #15 on the R&B chart and “Apache” which peaked at #13.
“I was part of a group called Casanova Fly, doing bouncer work, attending college and working in a pizza shop when I first met producer Sylvia Robinson who came into the pizza shop where I was flipping the dough. I was rapping in the park in Englewood and she heard about what I was doing. She wanted to make a hip hop record. She asked me to audition. I thought she was kidding but I auditioned right there. Mike, who was part of Phase II, happened to be across the street so he came over. This had to be God’s doing because Guy just happened to be walking down the street. What is the odds of that – all 3 of us on the same block at the same time! We just started battling and Sylvia said “I found my group.” The rest is history,” stated Hank. “It was magic in the studio. Rapper’s Delight was done in 17 minutes. Just one take, no mistakes, and it went to press from there. The record went platinum in 8 days.”
Fame can often make a huge difference in people’s life. “Fame is like hitting the lottery. We went on tour right after the record hit the airwaves opening up for Parliament Funkadelic. Parliament/Funkadelic was more famous than us but the people came to see us. The tour managers had to take us off the tour. When we went to London we were shocked by the craziness of it all” said the rapper. “We went from being ‘known MCs’ to not being able to walk down the street. We were shocked at the reception we got when we walked through the airplane gates in England. It was like being the Beatles in reverse. We kept looking behind us to see who they were shouting at and realized it was us. We were the first rap group in East Germany after the Berlin Wall came down and in the Warsaw countries. We went to places barely on the map. The first tour took a year and a half. We returned to the U.S. and went right into the studio and recorded “8th Wonder” and then “Apache.”
Initially other musicians told the Sugarhill Gang that their rap music wouldn’t last and hip hop was only a fad. Obviously, as it’s turned out, Rap music has been around 30 years and still going strong. “This is 31 years of hip hop. Last year the music business made $38billion. That take was outside of what rap music made alone by itself which is $43billion,” said the only remaining original group member who is presently in the recording studio with the Gang working on a new single.
“The original Master Gee left the group in 1982. Joey Robinson took his place. The original Wonder Mike left the group in 2005 and was replaced by Warren Moore. Kory O is kind of back and forth as the backup for the group.
Some people cannot handle fame and fortune and the original Master Gee was one of those people. He had to be true to himself. Fame can take a toll on your personal life. Half of us were in short-lived marriages or not married at all. When you are doing something you love so much that you once did for free and then someone pays you to do it, it’s like a blessing. But you have to be prepared for it,” said Hank who did a children’s album with the Sugarhill Gang called “Jump On It.” “We taught kids ABCs, spelling, grammar and history. We had such great success with “Jump On It,” we are considering doing another kid’s album. It felt good to see our single catch on in the schools. It’s good to give back,” declared Hank who says he does everything big Willy style.
Interested parties can get tickets for Forever Freestyle5 by calling the Lehman Center box office at 718-960-8833 or on line at www.LehmanCenter.org. Parking is free.