Thursday, February 23, 2012

Dawn Hampton: The Light Is On!

May The Higher Power
Keep You In The Light
of Laughter Filled Days
and loved filled nights
May you have victory over
Adversaries Big And Small
Oh, let me think, No, that's not all.
May Your Heart Be Filled With Joy And Peace
Plus may you add to all of these
A Wealth Of Abundant Good Health And Cheer
And many, many, many
Happy New Years
All The Best
The Light Is On!
Dawn Hampton

Happy Thursday!



The above New Year's greeting is from my dear friend Dawn Hampton.
The suggestion for today's blog comes from Mark Nadler who I interviewed several months ago.
When I do my blog interviews, I end them by asking my subjects who they would like to see me do a blog on. When I interviewed Mark Nadler, without missing a beat, he said Dawn Hampton. Logistics and scheduling however caused us a couple of months to make this interview happen. However, on Tuesday, we met at The Metropolitan Room and it was great to sit down and bask in this incredible woman's glow. I'm happy to be celebrating Dawn Hampton today! Thank you, Mark Nadler, for this suggestion!

The above New Year's Prayer is not just words. Dawn Hampton livesthem! When you call her home, she answers the phone with "God Is Good. The Light Is On"! She is referring to the light within and hers has burned as bright as possible from the moment I first encountered her. I have known Dawn for at least 25 years. I first saw her at The Five Oaks which was the best watering hole/piano bar I have ever encountered in my life.
It is a shame that it no longer exists and an even bigger shame that so many never experienced the specialness of a room that I have yet to see recaptured anywhere.
 I still remember the night that Dawn Hampton walked in and danced, sang, and whistled her way right into my heart.

My life has been better for knowing Dawn all these years.
We don't see each other as often as I would like to but when we do, it's as if time stands still.
Dawn Hampton was born in 1928, in Middletown, Ohio.  Her father, Clark Deacon Hampton, Sr., had a family band and vaudeville act that was part of a traveling 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.  . She says she was always working and really didn't see that many other acts.Her family made a huge impact on her. They were ALL performers. They all sang, they all danced. Her dad put her out on stage when she was three and said, "Now, do something."
She said she wiggled a lot!  She doesn't really remember her first professional job...it seems like she was always working. Dawn is one of 12. We share the fact of coming from large families.
Although I'm only one of four. My dad was one of ten and my mom was the oldest of sixteen!
 As you know, I'm very passionate about the importance of arts in education. I asked Dawn to give me her thoughts. She feels it all boils down to politics. She doesn't feel that most "politicians" are aware of the importance of the arts. Since they are not AWARE, they find it easy to cut. And then they find it easy to pretend that they know what they are doing when they truly don't.

Dawn feels, as I do, that our children have a NEED. They have something deep inside of them that needs to come out. But our culture wants to tell them it is not allowed.
That's the reason they are into rap music and break dancing. It helps them to express what they are feeling to their generation.
They are not being allowed to be creative and that's whats wrong with "the arts".

As most of you know, for the past five years I've been working with Carol Channing and her Foundation For The Arts. When I ask Dawn her thoughts on Carol Channing, she says without missing a beat, "I love her. Of course, she deserves the Kennedy Center Honor!   In our current culture that is so youth oriented, they don't realize that without the "Carol Channings", there would be no show business."


Like Carol Channing, Dawn is going strong in her eighties! She is STILL swing dancing!
I saw for myself at her birthday this past summer. She goes to Sweden every year for a big swing dance festival. She has been going to Sweden for the past fourteen years. It is called The Herrang Dance Camp. She goes for a month every July. I asked if she danced the whole time she was there.
She said, "No, I run my mouth!"
 A man by the name of Frank Manning introduced Dawn to the people who run Herrang. Dawn had played The Savoy many years before and Fred and Herrang all thought of Dawn as one of the last Savoy Dancers.

The truth is that Dawn didn't really dance at The Savoy.
She played the saxophone as part of her family band. 
They played Carnegie Hall and The Apollo among many other venues as part of Duke Hampton and His Family Band.

Duke Hampton was Dawn's oldest brother. Everyone played. Out of her sibling's, she has two brothers that are still around. Her brother Slide lives in New Jersey and is a jazz giant, a master of the trombone. And her brother Maceo is a preacher.
 He lives in Michigan. She talks to Slide and Maceo every now and then. She says with a family that big, once you get away...I can relate!

 Dawn has written a novel with her niece Jackie Hampton, Two Penny Soap Opera. When I asked Dawn what she considered her biggest success in show business, she said that was hard because what she considers her biggest success and what others consider are two separate things.

She was in the Malcolm X movie in the dance scene with Frank Manning. People automatically thank that is a big thing. Dawn did not ever meet Malcolm X  but she did meet Denzel Washington. All she had to say about that is that he's a busy man.

When I asked Dawn what her lowest low is, she feels that she is experiencing that right now. She has sciatica and can't dance. She has been experiencing this about a month now. She is undergoing treatment for this.
She has a chiropractor that she is going to a couple of times a week. She says she's better but she's not well. She'll be dancing again before we know it!
 The one change that Dawn would like to see in today's industry is for the music "to go back" to music, for lyrics to go back to being about the lyrics. She says that a lot of jazz musicians these days are not into the lyrics at all.

To Dawn, the music without the lyrics is "phifft"! Dawn says she thinks there are "too many people who think they KNOW". Those that are making the decisions to what is happening. She mentions  WNEW, a station that I loved and listened to all the time. Now, I listen to Jonathan Schwartz on the 40s channel on Sirius XM. As a matter of fact, as I write these words, I'm listening to Margaret Whiting singing "Why Was I Born?" from her sublime Jerome Kern Songbook album.
Ella Fitzgerald's Songbook Series is also worth checking in to.

Dawn has been around a long time. Therefore she knows a LOT of people in the business. I asked how she deals with the myriad of requests to attend so many shows.
She says she lies a lot! Of course, she is often out of town. Sometimes, she just can't make it. She says she reaches out to the people of Don't Tell Mama, for instance. If someone is appearing there that they really think she should see, to let her know. She says, and I concur, that there are so many people who call themselves cabaret singers that are not.
Dawn says she is very happy at this point in her career. She is still a "dancing fool". Again, I saw her at her birthday celebration last summer and she is still going strong. When Dawn was very young, she wanted to be a ballet dancer then she found out that ballet does not swing. So, she gave that up. Then she started playing horn when her brothers got back from the service. She says she was one of the worst musicians in the world. All her family were excellent but she never wanted to play. But when the time came along and there was an empty space, her father put a horn in her hand.

When she appeared in the clubs, because of her gay fans, she was a "monster"...in a good way! They loved her and she loved them. She says that this new generation of people truly don't know what they missed. I agree!
I came to New York right at the end of that era. She feels this new crop of gay man is more interested in who they will be going to bed with than what the cultural arts landscape holds. A lot has been lost


Make no mistake, however, Dawn is very much in the moment. She very rarely has down moments according to her. She says that when people ask her how she is doing, her response is "I am blessed". Her secret? To know the Higher Power.


Dawn feels that the media is at fault partially as far as dwindling houses and audiences are concerned. Kids are interested in the "Beyonces" of today with no knowledge of those that have gone before. They come out with practically no clothes on and these kids think they are "it". Dawn's generation did not do that. They dressed appropriate to the situation.

A genie pops out of a bottle and grants three wishes to Dawn. Her first wish is for her voice to return. (She spoke in an audible whisper throughout our interview fighting a bug.). She would love to be able to reach gay people. She feels like she can't reach them now, that they come from a whole different mindset. The music is very different from what it was when she was coming up. And she would personally like to NOT see another movie about a f!@#ing vampire!


I asked Dawn to pick her favorite song. She could only pick one. Her answer was "God Bless The Child". When she thinks of God Bless The Child, SHE is the child being referred to in the song. She's asking God to Bless her.

The last show she saw on Broadway was LaCage Aux Folles, the recent revival. She didn't like it as much as she did the first time around. She feels that by paring it down, it has lost a lot in the process. It just wasn't the same to her. She feels they took away from it.

I asked her what she does to prepare for a performance. She said she prays a lot. Just as she answers the phone with "The Light is on." She meditates on that theme before she even opens her mouth to speak. She is sending that thought to everyone in the audience. She may start off feeling one thing but when she looks into the faces of her audiences, she may change direction depending upon the needs of an audience.
When I asked her how she knows when it is time for a Dawn Hampton show, she says thats a sifficult question because audiences are so different now. Over the years, she used to have people thank her for what she did or said on stage. She felt that she always reached the people. In Herrang, there is no age. Families come together. She says it is an amazing place. "They LOVE 'the dance and the music'".

It used to be that way! I grew up loving the music from my parents and grandparents generation. Then MTV came along and put the breaks on everything. An entire generation has grown up listening to only ONE kind of music. I feel MTV is the greatest disservice to ALL of show business. Everything now is generational and VERY divided.
Painting by Jeremy Sutton

Dawn tells me that over the years she has had to have other survival jobs just in order to survive. One time, she was working three jobs at once. She worked in a laundry during the daytime. She played to horn at night and she danced in the chorus on weekends. That was in Indianapolis, Indiana.

 Dawn says that she ended up in New York because when her brothers returned from the service, they no longer wanted to play with "us girls." They played a couple of gigs in Indianapolis for a long time. However, they really weren't going anywhere.
 She decided one day that she could not do it anymore. She came to New York in 1959. The first gig that she got in New York was at Arther's Tavern in the Village.Although it is still there, Dawn hasn't been back in years. She also hasn't been to the Duplex in years. THAT is a different location.


Dawn said that the greatest compliment she ever received was when she was working at Christopher's. One night she finished whistling a tune from Cats and Wayland Flowers, of Wayland and Madam fame, walked up to the stage and both he and Madam kissed the hem of Dawn's gown. She says "The queens that night went crazy".


Again, Dawn says she is blessed. She only started whistling one night when someone asked her to sing Stardust. She had never sung it. She went over to her piano player, who, by the way, hated her whistling. He thought it was the corniest thing that ever happened. It was a gay bar on Third Avenue. She can't remember the name of it although she says she has pictures of her from that night somewhere. She whistled Stardust. When she whistles, she closes her eyes. She opened her eyes and the entire audience was just standing there agog. She KNEW that she had touched them. 


She had done a show years ago called Greenwich Village USA. She was appearing in Sweden and the guy who was in charge after the show said, Dawn, I have a surprise for you and he began to play this song from this show! He had found this record! Most of those people had never heard Dawn sing. They only knew her as a dancer. 


Once in a local Duncan Donuts, a very excited patron, upon realizing who she was, walked up to her and said, "Come on now, sing!" 


Her message to everyone reading this blog is to love what you're doing. Love your audience. 


I love Dawn Hampton!


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Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!
If you've seen one of my appearances/shows, add your thoughts to my guestbook at www.RichardSkipper.com
           


                             Tomorrow's blog will be...Celebrating Mary Ellen Ashley!

Thank you, to all the mentioned in this blog!


Here's to an INCREDIBLE day for ALL...with NO challenges!



[Awesome photo of Dawn Hampton and Frankie Manning by D-rod]
Now, GO OUT AND DO SOMETHING FOR SOMEONE ELSE TODAY!


Please contribute to the DR. CAROL CHANNING  and HARRY KULLIJIAN FOUNDATION FOR THE ARTS


TILL TOMORROW...HERE'S TO AN ARTS DAY
Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for doing this interview, Richard. SO INSPIRING!!
    --Mark Nadler

    ReplyDelete