Happy Black History Month! This is the 11th blog of a series of blogs called “Black History Month Heroes You Should Know”. Each blog focuses on the life and career of a Black American whose life has shaped American history.

The focus of today’s blog is Sylvia Robinson, founder of Sugar Hill Records and producer of two major hits: The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” and Grandcrew Flash and The Furious Five’s “The Message”. She is known as the “Mother of Hip Hop”.

Starting a Career at 14

Born in 1936, Sylvia Robinson grew up in New York City. According to BlackPast, at age 14, Robinson got the chance to sing with blues player Hot Lips Page. She began recording music as Little Sylvia in 1950 for Columbia Records. 4 years later, she performed alongside a guitar player from Kentucky named Mickey Baker, who taught her how to play. Together, the duo performed the rock single “Love Is Strange” by Jody Williams and Bo Diddley. Their cover hit #11 on Billboard’s charts and topped the 1957 R&B charts. In 1959, the duo split up and when Sylvia married Joseph Robinson, she resumed her career as Sylvia Robinson. With her husband, she opened All Platinum Records in New Jersey in 1966 (BlackPast).

Sugar Hill Records

Robinson wrote “Pillow Talk” in 1972 during early disco. The following year, the song hit #1 on the R&B chart and #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 (BlackPast). Robinson sold 2 million copies of the song. 5 years later, Robinson opened Sugar Hill Records, the name coming from the affluent Black community in Harlem. When Robinson found them, Big Bank Hang, Master Gee, and Wonder Mike were all fairly unknown rappers from Englewood, New Jersey. Together, Robinson helped the group produce “Rapper’s Delight” which hit #5 on the R&B chart. This song revolutionized music at the time because it brought hip hop to a widescale audience (BlackPast).

“The Message”

In the early 80’s, Robinson signed another group: Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. With them, she produced “The Message” about life in the ghetto. BlackPast says the song is “one of the most powerful social commentaries of its time”. But, unfortunately during this time, competition grew substantially between hip-hop labels like Def Jam. Sugar Hill Records went under in 1985. After that, Sylvia continued as an executive music producer. She passed away in 2011 of congenital heart failure at the age of 75 (BlackPast).

Watch this video from Block Starz Music Television. And, check out the source used for this article: BlackPast.

READ NEXT: Black History Month Heroes You Should Know: Angelina Weld Grimké