Dawn Hampton: Life and Times

So who is Dawn Hampton? Here are the facts...

Dawn Hampton
This be her

The unique and irrepressible force known as Dawn Hampton is sweeping into the country for ten days. For those who have been on the swing dance scene for some time, Dawn is known as an inspirational figure. Although she claims not to be a dancer, her wise words have helped many that are.

So if not a dancer, what's her story? Dawn was born in 1928, in Middle town, Ohio. Her father, Clark Deacon Hampton, Sr., had a family band and vaudeville act which was part of a travelling carnival. She grew up listening to the music of the family band, Deacon Hampton's Pickaninnys, sitting on an orange box behind her mother Laura's piano.

It wasn't long before the infant Hampton was making a contribution. She began performing at the tender age of three, and two years later sang He Takes Me to Paradise.

Dawn is one of twelve children. Slide Hampton, the well-known jazz trombonist, is the youngest. Two of Dawn's older sisters, Aletra and Virtue, live in Indianapolis and are still performing and there are many more musical Hampton's scattered around the country.

After the war, the family band reunited for several years. There were fourteen pieces and nine Hamptons; Dawn played alto and tenor sax. They travelled under the leadership of her brother Duke, and played throughout the Mid-West and South. Finally, in 1950, the band achieved its dream of performing at Carnegie Hall (along with another well-known, although unrelated Hampton, Lionel).

Once the Big Apple got a taste of the Hampton Family, they were featured at the Apollo Theatre and the Savoy Ballroom. The Hamptons became the House Band at the then-famous Sunset Terrace in Indianapolis, and then moved on to the Cincinatti Cotton Club. Somewhere in the mid-1950's, several brothers went off to study music and Dawn and her sister's Aletra, Virtue and Carmelita continued performing as the Hampton Sisters.

In 1958, Dawn moved to New York City, where she soon joined the cast of the Off-Broadway hit show, "Greenwich Village, U.S.A." The show ran for a year at New York's legendary "The Bon Soir." An original cast album (33-RPM) of the show features several solo tracks by Dawn.

During the early 60's, Dawn worked as the house singer at the Lion's Den. The Lion's Den was also the scene of a singer's talent competition. Barbra Streisand relates in a Vanity Fair interview, that one of her first times singing on stage was at one of these competitions. She tells how she was a little unnerved, because she came on stage after Dawn, "and the lusty applause for Dawn Hampton [was] ringing in her ears."

Dawn was enjoying her budding career until 1964. Surgery that year was complicated by injury to her vocal cords, and Dawn's doctors informed her that she might loose her voice permanently. During a long year of rehabilitation, Dawn retained her optimistic spirit, and regained her voice, and although she lost much of her vocal range she never lost her eagerness or her ability to perform. Dawn commemorated her recovery by writing one of her signature tunes and the title song of her CD, "Life Is What You Make It."

Dawn spent much of the following 20 years performing as a cabaret singer in clubs around New York City such as Tijuana Cats, The Bushes, Marie's Crisis, and The Duplex, and reviewers called her a "singer's singer" and dubbed her the "Queen of Cabaret". In 1972, Dawn appeared at the infamous Continental Baths where she had the opportunity to perform with artists such as Cab Calloway, Bette Midler, and Barry Manilow.

In 1989, Dawn collaborated with pianist/performer Mark Nadler, writing music and lyrics for the honky-tonk mini-opera, "Red Light," which was given the Manhattan Association of Cabarets (MAC) Award in 1990. Dawn and Mark also collaborated on "An Evening With Dawn Hampton" which enjoyed an extend run at "Don't Tell Mama." Dawn also wrote the music and lyrics for the play "Madame C. J. Walker".

Dawn received the "Lifetime Achievement in Cabaret" award from New York's Private Lives, and in 1988 was nominated for the "Distinguished Achievement" Director and Composer awards by the Manhattan Association of Cabarets.

More recently, Dawn has pointed her golden slippers toward the Swing Dance world where her smooth style and theatrical presence have brought her international acclaim. Dawn appeared with Frankie Manning as a dancer in Spike Lee's Film, "Malcolm X."

This lady knows all about vaudeville, this lady knows all about life in Harlem, she stomped at The Savoy and was the toast of New York. This is one unique lady!

These days, when not an honoured guest at swing and Lindy Hop events around the world, Dawn can be found in New York City dancing and listening to some of the best swing bands around. To watch Dawn dancing heightens the experience of merely listening to jazz and reunites the relationship between music and dance.

adapted by Andrew Winton from the biography at www.dawnhampton.com

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