Hopkins was born on the 24th August 1903 in Alexandria, Virginia (though historians differ in respect of the actual date of his birth). His parents were on the faculty of Howard University. A highly talented stride piano player and arranger, he left home at the age of twenty-one as a sideman with the Wilbur Sweatman Orchestra, but stayed with them for less than a year. In 1925 he left for Europe as the musical director of The Revue Negre, which starred Josephine Baker, and had Sidney Bechet in the band.
He returned to the U.S.A. in 1927 where, based in Washington, he toured the TOBA circuit with The Ginger Snaps Revue before heading once again for New York City, where he took over the band of Charlie Skeets. At this time (1932–36), he led a fairly successful Harlem band employing many jazz musicians who were later to become famous in their own right, such as Edmond Hall, Jabbo Smith, and Vic Dickenson (although it’s worth noting that his records were arranged to feature his piano more than his band). This was his most successful period, with long residencies at the Savoy and Roseland ballrooms and at the Cotton Club. In 1937 he took his band on the road with a great deal of success.
He broke up the band in 1940 and used his arranging talents working for several non-jazz band leaders and for CBS. In 1948-49 he led a novelty band briefly, but took a jazz band into The Cafe Society in 1950. From 1951 until his death, he remained in New York working mostly as a sideman with other Dixieland bands playing at festivals and various New York clubs and recording. Often underrated in later years, he was one of jazz’s most important band leaders and has yet to be given full recognition for his achievements. He died on the 19th February 1984, a disillusioned and dispirited man.
Edited by Grosseteste on 23 Mar 2013, 14:00
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