Who is Dawn? Are you kidding???
To many people in the dance community, Dawn is an inspirational figure. She is a high-spirited speaker, an amazing role model, and though she claims not to be a dancer, one of the most entertaining and musically intuitive people you will see on the dance floor.
But if Dawn isn't a dancer, who is she? Dawn was born in 1928 in Middletown, Ohio. Her father, Clark Deacon Hampton, Sr., had a family band and vaudeville act, which was part of a traveling carnival. Dawn grew up listening to the music of the family band, Deacon Hampton's Pickaninnys, while she sat on an orange box behind her mother’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 WWII, the family band reunited for several years. There were fourteen pieces and nine Hamptons; Dawn played alto and tenor sax. They traveled under the leadership of her brother Duke and played the Mid-West and South. Finally, in 1950, the band achieved its dream of performing at Carnegie Hall (along with a well-known vibraphonist, Lionel Hampton, though of no family relation).
Once the Hampton Family landed in the Big Apple, they were featured at the Apollo Theater and the Savoy Ballroom. The Hamptons became the house band at the then-famous Sunset Terrace in Indianapolis and then moved on to the Cincinnati Cotton Club.
Sometime in the mid-1950's, several brothers went off to study music, and Dawn and her sisters 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 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. Barbara 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 my ears."
Dawn was enjoying her budding career until 1964. Surgery that year was complicated by an injury to her vocal cords, and Dawn's doctors informed her that she might loose her voice permanently. During the long year of rehabilitation, Dawn retained her optimistic spirit and regained her voice. Though she lost much of her vocal range, she never lost her eagerness or 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. 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 performed 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 extended 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.
These days, when not an honored 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. Watching Dawn dance heightens the experience of merely listening to jazz and reunites the relationship between music and movement. In Dawn's own words, "The light IS on!"