The world loves families who love music.
Indiana gave us the Jackson 5. Utah’s musical gift was the Osmonds. Sister Sledge hailed from Philly. The Carpenters were born in Connecticut and lived in California…(*)
And the Hampton Family was from Middletown, Ohio.
If you’re not familiar with the Hamptons -- father Clarke “Deacon” Hampton, mother Laura and their twelve musically gifted children -- it’s probably because they lived in Middletown, Ohio, for a period of time before moving to Shelbyville, Indiana. In 1938 the family relocated to Indianapolis, where they “held lengthy engagements at Indianapolis’ Cotton Club and the Sunset Tavern.” (1)
A check of Middletown, Ohio, city directories from 1928-29 and 1930-31 (**) finds a Clark and Laura Hampton residing at 813 9th Avenue. Hampton’s occupation is listed -- not surprisingly -- as “music teacher.”
Post-Middletown, the Hamptons immersed themselves in the flourishing jazz environment known as “Indiana Avenue.” There the Hamptons honed their talents, ultimately joining the ranks of the world’s most highly celebrated musical groups as well as becoming gifted individual performers.
So compelling is the family’s history that it became the subject of a 2011 Emmy Award-winning PBS documentary from BetterThanFiction Productions titled “The Unforgettable Hampton Family” (2). Directed by Julie Cohen, the film celebrated “Deacon Clark Hampton, a son of slaves,” who “lifted his twelve children out of poverty by making them into successful musicians.” (3)
Indiana music students have long studied the family’s captivating history alongside the biographies of Hoosier music icons Hoagy Carmichael, Wes Montgomery and others. Students are familiar with the twelve Hampton children, all of whom were “taught to play a variety of musical instruments or perform in some capacity on stage by the age of three…” (4)
Another website, Hoosier History Live!, also offers background on the Hamptons. It includes information from Indianapolis-based music historian David Leander Williams who wrote the book, “Indianapolis Jazz,” published in 2014 by The History Press. (5)
That site notes that although the musically-gifted family was not related to American jazz great Lionel Hampton, their son and sibling “Slide” Hampton toured in Lionel Hampton’s orchestra (5). A master jazz trombonist, composer and arranger, “Slide,” whose full name is Locksley Wellington Hampton, is a Grammy Award winner and the recipient of many other prestigious musical honors. (*)
In the 1940s, “when most of their brothers were drafted into the military,” Hampton sisters Aletra, Virtue, Carmelita and Dawn performed rhythm and blues as the popular “Hampton Sisters.” Dawn, the last of the singing “Sisters,” died at age 88 in 2016. (6)
Although the Hamptons made their mark in music history in Indiana and beyond, Middletown can still boast of having been part of the lives of one of America’s most exceptionally talented families.