By Kathy Johnson
The Arts Garden at Circle Centre Mall was alive with music on Sunday at 3:00pm which is when the Hampton Sisters and Friends made the audience swing with their soulful sounds of swing and rhythm & blues. Aletra Hampton at age 83 and Virtue Hampton-Whitted at age 75 showed no signs of slowing down. They played many old favorites including Take The 'A" Train and selected tunes from Porgy and Bess. Many people mistakenly classify their music as jazz, "but there's a difference", Aletra points out.
Born in Middleton, Ohio, the Hampton family first came to Indianapolis in 1938, while traveling up north, around Pennsylvania. "My second daughter was born a couple of weeks before we got here", Aletra Hampton-Kurley recalled. She has three children altogether, Halo (62), Paulia, and Clarke (57). Two of her children live in Indianapolis, but Paulia who lives in New York, plays with a group of four ladies called "Jazzberry Jam".
The swing and rhythm & blues group was originally known as The Hampton sisters, which consisted of all four of the Hampton sisters. Dawn Hampton, who is no longer part of the group lives in New York. Virtue Hampton-Whitted, who plays the upright bass and lives in Indianapolis, still plays with the group today. Carmelita, who was also part of the original group died in 1987.
The Hampton Sisters were born to Laura and Clark Fielding Hampton. "Dad was a self-taught musician as well as a self-taught artist", recalled Aletra. He was responsible for the whole thing. He taught everybody; from the age of three, they all played intruments. "He was the leader of the band for awhile, but Dad got tired", she said.
There were eight brothers in the Hampton family. Duke Hampton, who's too old to play now, lives in California. Buddy as he was called first, was named after his father Clark, so they started calling him Duke. "Lucky" Hampton, whose name was Russell, played the tenor sax, and Marcus, who played the trumpet are both dead now. Maceo Hampton, the well known trumpet player and Slyde Hampton, a noted trombone player are still around. Two of the three younger boys danced on stage, but all died at an early age.
The Hampton family played together for awhile, but when the boys were drafted into the service the sisters began singing together. "Carmalita and I were both working at Fort Benjamin Harrison serving the injured soldiers when they came in", and Virtue worked at Centruy Biscuit Co. when they began singing through the Red Cross, with the help of Mrs. Battles. "We'd go down and play through the wards at night", she recalled. We worked there about 6 months before going to Camp Aturbury and began working in the laundry. Next we entertained at Grissom Air Force Base, all through the Red Cross.
Some of the other places they played was in Cincinnati at The Cotton Club and in New York at The Apollo Theater twice around the late forties and they didn't even have a record at the time.
For part 2 of this story, read the Indiana Herald next week, and visit the Hampton Sisters website at http://a1.com/concepts.
For more information visit Circle City Business and Culture Mall at http://a1.com/concepts or call Creative Concepts at (317)266-9310.
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