Whether you’re talking about the Hampton Sisters or the Hampton sisters — because it matters depending on which combination of the four siblings you’re referring to — you’re discussing Indiana Avenue legends, people whose jazz talent helped make Funky Broadway what it was in the early- to mid-19th century, and what it’s remembered as today.
But it was also more than just a group of sisters with hits “Hey Little Boy” and “My Heart Tells Me.” It was a family venture.
Their father, Clarke “Deacon” Hampton, formed a family band in the early 1930s that included his children. Originally from Middletown, Ohio, the family relocated to Shelbyville and then Indianapolis in the late 1930s.
The family performed as individual acts and together in various configurations around the Midwest and became a staple on Indiana Avenue’s bustling jazz scene. What was originally the Deacon Hampton Family Band transitioned in the 1940s to the Duke Hampton Band and the Hampton Family Orchestra. The group played at Carnegie Hall, Savoy Ballroom and the Apollo Theatre. They recorded on the King and Aladdin labels.
A 2011 PBS documentary, “The Unforgettable Hampton Family,” showed the family’s rise and success in music. The youngest brother, Locksley Wellington “Slide” Hampton, became a noted jazz trombonist and won two Grammy Awards.
Originally known as the Hamptonians, the Hampton sisters in the late 1960s became the Hampton Sister Group. They eventually became a trio and then a duo, with Aletra and Virtue playing together in Indianapolis into their 80s. Aletra and Virtue were known as the Hampton Sisters.
“These siblings dominated the music scene on the Avenue in the 1940s and ‘50s,” David Baker, a former Indiana University jazz studies professor, wrote in the introduction to David Williams’ 2014 book, “Indianapolis Jazz: The Masters, Legends and Legacy of Indiana Avenue.”
The Hampton family received Indiana’s Governor Arts Award in 1991 for their contributions to the state’s musical history. The Indianapolis Jazz Foundation inducted Aletra and Virtue into its Hall of Fame, and the two were awarded honorary doctorate of music degrees from the University of Indianapolis in 2004.
Carmalita died in 1987, Aletra and Virtue both died in 2007, and Dawn was the last sister to die in 2016.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.