Tip of the Hat

A tip of the hat is the least you can do for a Charleston legend like Lonnie Hamilton III.

On a recent Friday evening, the 93-year-old, sporting a red bow tie and suspenders along with his sparkling smile, graciously acknowledged Charleston Jazz’s recognition of his numerous contributions to Charleston with a “Tip of the Hat” award.


From their glassed-in, gleaming perch, decked-out patrons and players animated gala tables that gazed out over the west side of Charleston’s peninsula. With its cluster of new developments hovering around WestEdge, the view has changed dramatically since Hamilton first played jazz a few blocks east at Burke High School.

Spotting Hamilton at a central table, I seized the chance for a few words with the Charleston great, whose name has been sung throughout this city since my childhood days.


“I would hope that jazz in Charleston becomes respected as a form of music that helps with the growth of young and old people alike,” he offered in the video, recalling the emphasis of classical music in his artistic own coming of age, even with his master’s degree and love of jazz.

“I had to break away from that in order to decide that my love is someplace else. I had respect for the fact that classical music had its place, but I knew that jazz had a soul.”

So a tip of the hat, and a tap or two of the keyboard, to a man whose life has been powered by music, which in so many ways, and with his many hats, has celebrated and nurtured Charleston’s soul.

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