Claude Driskett Hopkins (August 24, 1903 – February 19, 1984) was an American jazz stride pianist and bandleader.
Claude Hopkins was born in Alexandria, Virginia in 1903. Historians differ in respect of the actual date of his birth. His parents were on the faculty of Howard University. A highly talented stride piano player and arranger, he left home at the age of only 21 as a sideman with the Wilbur Sweatman Orchestra but stayed less than a year. In 1925, he left for Europe as the musical director of The Revue Negre which starred Josephine Baker with Sidney Bechet in the band.
He returned to the USA in 1927 where, based in Washington, he toured the TOBA circuit with The Ginger Snaps Revue before heading once again for NYC where he took over the band of Charlie Skeets. Between 1932-1935, he recorded steadily with his big band, which featured Jimmy Mundy arrangements and such fine soloists as trumpeter/vocalist Ovie Alston, trombonist Fernando Arbello, a young Edmond Hall on clarinet, and baritone and tenorman Bobby Sands, along with the popular high-note vocals of Orlando Roberson.
The orchestra's recordings are a bit erratic, with more than their share of mistakes from the ensembles and a difficulty in integrating Hopkins' powerhouse piano with the full group, but they are generally quite enjoyable. Mundy's eccentric "Mush Mouth" is a classic, and Hopkins introduced his best-known original, "I Would Do Anything for You."
Although they played regularly at Roseland (1931-1935) and the Cotton Club (1935-1936), and there were further sessions in 1937 and 1940, the Claude Hopkins big band never really caught on and ended up breaking up at the height of the swing era. Hopkins did lead a later, unrecorded big band (1944-1947), but mostly worked with small groups for the remainder of his career.
Next, he led a "novelty quintet" on tour in 1948-49 and a combo at Cafe Society in New York City in 1950-51, then, during the next three decades, worked with various musicians as a pianist at club, concert, and festival performances (such as trumpeter Roy Eldridge's group at Jimmy Ryan's in New York City for several years, or later when Hopkins toured Europe with trombonist Dicky Wells and saxophonist Earle Warren, who had been part of Count Basie's orchestra in the 1930s and '40s).
In 1970, Gene Fernett authored a book celebrating many prominent African-American orchestras, including Hopkins', and commented, "Hopefully, there may come a day when he will choose to once again front a big band." That didn't happen, but Hopkins had continued to record, making some enjoyable LPs for the Swingville label in the 1960s ("Yes, Indeed!"; "Let's Jam"; and "Swing Time"), and, in 1973, a fine solo piano album on Chiaroscuro ("Crazy Fingers").
Often under-rated in later years, he was one of jazz's most important band leaders and has yet to be given full recognition for his achievements. He died on 19 February 1984, a disillusioned and dispirited man.
Looking back on Hopkins' career, critics Leonard Feather and Ira Gitler later wrote that he had remained a "master of stride with a lyrical bent and consistent sense of swing." It is surprising that his piano skills were not more extensively documented.
(Info edited from Wikipedia, Oldies.com, All Music & Big Band Library)
Claude Hopkins Orchestra featuring Orlando Roberson and The Four Step Brothers from a film short from 1933 "Babershop Blues".