Sugar Hill, now a national historic district, got its name in the 1920s when the area blossomed as a popular place for wealthy African Americans to live during the Harlem Renaissance. The moniker was reflective of the “sweet life” embodied by the many prominent black figures who called Sugar Hill home including intellectual W.E.B. DuBois, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, composer Duke Ellington and writer Zora Neale Hurston.
The presence of such luminaries formulated a hotbed of black art and culture (especially on Edgecombe Ave.) and is noted for cultivating, investing in and inspiring black talent. “It wasn’t uncommon to see these people rolling up in their limos … and that said to us, you can do this too,” recalls Cecelia Hodges, Princeton Professor, actress and former Sugar Hill resident.
The legendary neighborhood has been referenced in pop culture via jazz standard Take the A Train composed by Billy Strayhorn in 1939, rap pioneers The Sugar Hill Gang and the 1994 film of the same name, Sugar Hill, starring Wesley Snipes.