top of page

Lewis Hamlin Jr. (LHJ) Legacy Collective

 Lewis Hamlin Jr. pictured with his Trumpet and Flugelhorn. (circa. 1970)

Photo Courtesy of the BRONZeTONE Center.

Lewis Hamlin Jr. was born in Macon, Georgia on October 24, 1930. He attended

Ballard-Hudson and after graduating established the first Drum and Bugle Corp at St. Peter Claver Catholic School in Macon, Georgia. In 1950-51, Hamlin was admitted to Fort Valley State College (now University) where he majored in Music Education under the tutelage of Mr. Adams. It was at Fort Valley that he met his future wife, Elaine Smith, an Elementary Education major. They married and both graduated in 1956.

It was while living in Macon's Historic Tindall Heights that Hamlin met Little Richard, Otis Redding, and James Brown. His earliest gigs were with the Gladys Williams Band, and some of his most accomplished students were Jimmy Mills and Newton Collier (Trumpeter for Sam & Dave). While teaching in Savannah, Georgia in 1961, Hamlin ran James Brown who asked him on tour with him and as his chief arranger and band director. Hamlin accepted, and assumed this role until 1963-64, after the release of Brown's most successful album of his career, Live at the Apollo, recorded on the night of October 24, 1962, Hamlin's birthday. The success of this album, opposed by the King Record Label and financed by Brown, catapulted Brown into national acclaim. According to R.J. Smith in his celebrated study of Brown, "The One: The Life and Music of James Brown (Gotham Books, 2012), Hamlin was "possibly the most valuable player of Live at the Apollo --a trumpet man and the group's musical director--he is the forgotten man in setting the musical course for the band..." (pgs.115-117). In addition to his work with Brown, Hamlin arranged for Tammi Terrell, Tracy McClary, and became special friends with Patti Labelle and the BlueBells', Cindy Birdsong.

In the winter of 1964, Hamlin moved his family to Baltimore, Maryland where he would remain until his death in 1991. While in Baltimore, Hamlin taught music for the Baltimore City Public School System at Southwestern High, Hilton Elementary, and, most notable, Forest Park Senior High where he led the first marching band to ever appear in an inaugural parade in the history of this nation, as Forest Park is the alma mater of former Vice President, Spiro T. Agnew. On the eve of the Forest Park Marching Band's historic performance, Hamlin, in an interview, stated that " leading and marching with the first group of black student-musicians ever invited to participate in the Inaugural Parade was the most rewarding moment of his teaching and musical career thus far."

Inaugural Parade Rehearsal/s. The Forest Parker. 1968.

Photo Courtesy of the BRONZeTONE Center. 

    Hamlin received his MA from Towson University. He created an elementary band series titled CalypsoJoe, was a member of the Left Bank Jazz Society, performed with the Baltimore Symphony, and worked closely with the Peabody Institute. In 1983, Hamlin established the Lewis Hamlin Orchestra performing on the northern and southern eastern coasts. In 1985, he recorded a series of his favorite standards with his daughter, Deborah-Patrice Hamlin, vocalist and historian of American and African American history. It is the only extant studio recording of Hamlin Brown and includes classic standards such as Misty, On a Clear Day, and Stormy Monday.

    Hamlin inspired many young musicians to pursue and master their "ax." Wendell Shepherd

(trumpet), Jay Moody (drums), Ray Gaskins (saxophonist/keyboards), Reggie Wells (piano), Carroll DeShield (base), Phil Stencil (piano) and Daryl Dickerson (drums) to name a few. He also performed with fellow teacher-musicians such as Charles Anderson, Charles Funn, Donna Sherrod, Mr. George, Mr. Flapp, and Bill Clark among others, and gave tirelessly to the Baltimore City Cultural Arts Programs, a scholarship for which was named in his honor.

    Lew was also an entrepreneur. He established a mobile food truck known as "Lew's Snowballs." From miles and neighborhoods around, children could be found waiting and listening for the "jingle" of Mr. Lew's blue truck that he kept fully stocked with sweet syrup for snowballs, candy, and cookies. Prior to his death, Lew shared that seeing the smile on the children's faces after having that first taste of his snowballs on a hot day made his day a lot cooler.

    For many, Lew was Mr. Cool, known by his slow, but steady stride and dark sunglasses. But after a long and illustrious music career, Hamlin succumbed to congestive heart failure on November 23, at Baltimore County Hospital. Of the many mourners, James Brown, in an interview upon learning of Hamlin's death, stated that "he was a fine guy As a Musical he was plus, and he always gave 2,000 percent. As a human he was the same He could take my ideas and carry them out, Oh he was super. He made a song with me called "Thing in G...." He is gone in body, but not in spirit." (Macon Metro Times, November 1991).

 "Thing in G," Prisoner of Love Album.

Side 2, #5, (6:08) King Records, 1963. Album reaches #18 on the Charts.

Photo Courtesy of the BRONZeTONE Center.

     Hamlin is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland facing the setting sun along with wife, Arlivia, who made her transition on February 2, 2002. In the far distance of Woodlawn are sons, Lewis Decellous Hamlin, Trumpeter, BSW, and Baker; and Derek Hamlin, Trumpeter, Songwriter, and Minister. Lewis Hamlin, Jr.'s legacy of music and education continues to live through those whom he taught, touched, and inspired, and through the LHJ Legacy Association.

The LHJ Legacy Collective's mission is to protect, preserve, and promote the Legacy of Lewis Hamlin Jr., and others through music and history, and to engage local communities of color in the work of discovering and documenting their individual and collective pasts through educational programs, music creation and performance, studio recording and production, community conversations, research, publication, and special events. Our signature event, "The Lewis Hamlin Jr. Legacy Celebration" held on October 24, is an annual, community, invitation only, gathering focusing on Legacy as a catalyst for economic, cultural, and spiritual liberation.  Stay Tuned!!

The BRONZeTONE Center for Music & History, Copyright 2013. All Rights Reserved.

00:00 / 04:28
bottom of page