Home > CHANGE:, CULTURE, HIP_HOP, MUSIC, PASSING > PASSING, MUSIC, HIP-HOP: Big Bank Hank(Henry Lee Jackson) of the Sugarhill Gang January 11, 1956-November 11, 2014

PASSING, MUSIC, HIP-HOP: Big Bank Hank(Henry Lee Jackson) of the Sugarhill Gang January 11, 1956-November 11, 2014

Big Bank Hank(Henry Lee Jackson) of the hip-hop crew the Sugarhill Gang, passed on November 11, 2014 of kidney failure resulting from cancer.

Big Bank Hank’s contributions to the seminal hip-hop hit “Rapper’s Delight” popularized phrases such as “hotel, motel, Holiday Inn…Superman…a fairy…why do you suppose, flying though the air in his panty hose…drive off in a def O.J.”  in a decidedly less politically correct time.  Indeed, a reference to the time when O.J. Simpson was known for being the “Superstar of Rent-a-Car” would be archaic if it were not so disingenuous.

“Rapper’s Delight” is the single most important popular song in my time of being an ear.

Only Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” which is the root of EDM, Desmond Dekker and the Rhythm Aces’ “Israelites,” the first U.S. mainland reggae hit and ABBA’s “Waterloo” which crossed over the Atlantic Ocean from Sweden to the U.S; can come close to “Rapper’s Delight” in creating an everlasting form AND audience.

Not only was “Rapper’s Delight” a  hit and a genre; 2 words, “hip-hop”, as declaimed by Wonder Mike, as the very first 2 words in the rap formed a name for the  genre sired by the Sugarhill Band’s Doug Wimbish as Mr. Wimbish purloined Bernard Edwards’ bassline from Chic’s “Good Times”.

“Rapper’s Delight” was performed with a live studio band before scratching, let alone sampling, became the building blocks of hip-hop.

Hip-hop, like its alternative distant cousins, punk and disco, was a creation AND product of independent record labels at a time when vinyl defined technology and markets.  The Sugarhill Gang, appropriately enough was on Sylvia Roberson’s Sugarhill Records and the “original” version was on a 12″ disc.

A loose confederacy of ears; college radio, club kids, post-midnight radio and independent record stores, challenged the oligarchy of the major record labels and spawned hip-hop’s fledgling artists.

Yes, “Rapper’s Delight” was as much of a slap in the face to the R&B, disco and funk of the time as the Ramones’ “Blitzkreig Bop” was to progressive rock.  My ears approved of both and my heart cast the verdict in a way that today’s iTunes/smartphone generation can scarcely imagine without asking their folks.

 (The Sugarhill Gang’s Sugarhill Records was owned by Sylvia Robinson.  Ms. Robinson’s lengthy resume’ includes singing “Love is Strange” as part of Mickey & Sylvia in 1962 and preserved in DIRTY DANCING.  Ms. Robinson wrote, produced and  voiced the proto-disco hit “Pillow Talk” as Sylvia.  Ms. Robinson also wrote the Persuasions “Love on a Two Way Street” which became the track for the Jay Z./Alicia keys “Empire State” hit of 2009.  Indeed, Ms. Robinson is worthy of historic canonization. Stay tuned).

“Rapper’s Delight” was an instant sensation far exceeding its Billboard charting.  Making its 1st. appearance months after its summer release it made the charts on 10/13/1979 eventually peaking at #36 Pop/# Soul Singles as “hip-hop” had not made its way into marketing lexicon.



In the snap of a finger(s), Northeastern University’s WRBB “The Spice in Your Life” under the helm of Eddie Cue, put the record into heavy rotation.  Northeastern’s Ell Center echoed with “The beat don’t stoppa ’til the break of dawn,” as students attempting to “study” were perplexed by this new sound.

The Ell Center cafeteria soon offered students, not all of them black by any means, shouting out, “The chicken tastes like wood,” long before Kiga offered soba noodles in hoisin sauce.

“Rapper’s Delight” is almost certainly the only pop hit, let alone hip-hop track, to reference Kaopectate!

The Boston-Boston Discotheque, now the site of the House of Blues, featured men proclaiming that the “women fight for my delight” with all of the enthusiasm, and none of the charm of Big Bank Hank.

During that summer of 1979 my brother Peter visited my furnished room and we delighted in yelling out “super sperm” with Big Bank Hank as the 12″ rotated on the turntable of my Panasonic compact stereo.

Of Henry Lee Jackson, the man himself, little is revealed by research.  Mr. Jackson graduated with an Associate of Science degree from Bronx Community College and was making pizza while working nights as a doorman at the Sparkle club in the Bronx when “Rapper’s Delight” was recorded.


The Sugarhill Gang were true pioneers insofar as naming and claiming hip-hop.  “Rapper’s Delight” proved to be their biggest hit although “Apache”s appropriation of the Incredible Bongo Band’s “Bongo Rock” enlivened an Iota Theta step show held in the Northeastern Quadrangle after my Finance class in 1981.

By 1983 DJ scratching and the exhortations of Run-DMC, among many others, had seized the burgeoning hip-hop market.  The Sugarhill Gang continued to appear in various lineups while enmeshed in the prolonged litigation all too common among young artists and those in the employ of Sylvia Robinson, whose many talents did not include accounting.

“Rapper’s Delight ” sounds as simplistic and boyish today…as it did when it was born.  The adolescent joy of the track is entirely appropriate to the newborn genre.  Indeed, while pubescent rappers abound  the house party vibe of “Rapper’s Delight” has retained the cheery amateurism that all too many have aspired to all too strenuously. The genuine musicality of the Doug Wimbish/Chic bassline is truly a template for melody that sets up the pentameter of Big Bank Hank, Wonder Mike and Mastergee(the Baby of the Bunch).

Big Bank Hank’s gleeful “Hoo ha, keep you all in check,” found its way into the flow of Busta Rhymes and innumerable other acts even while his name was referenced by none that I can recall.

Was Big Bank Hank an “artist?”  It’s a close call and the tangle of copyright law, artistic property and rights of publicity intrinsic to hip-hop sheds no light on the question.

Certainly talking blues is a style that goes back to the Mississippi delta.   Charley Ryan’s “Hot Rod Lincoln” as covered by Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen brought Western Swing’s “calling” to the Top 40 as a novelty hit in 1971, #9 Pop/#51 Country.



Indeed, James Brown’s gruff spoken exhortations in “Hot Pants” and “Make It Funky” are precursors to hip-hop.

Big Bank Hank and “Rapper’s Delight” is to hip-hop what the Model A Ford was to cars.  It identified a form that had been percolating and gave it a name…and that is something.

“Rapper’s Delight” is the single most important  song in the life of my ears.

Age has its blessings and having my ears remember the dawn of a form is among them.



“..cause I shock the house…”



  1. steve boisson
    December 5, 2014 at 9:41 pm

    Jimmy Cliff predates Desmond Dekker


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