Article about my late father-in-law, who was a well-known Philadelphia jazz musician.
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“If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know,” Jazz legend Louis Armstrong was quoted. Nobody who heard Earnest “Hoppy” Hopkins play his tenor saxophone ever needed to ask.
Hopkins was born in Sandersville, GA but was raised and educated in Philadelphia, PA. A graduate of the now defunct Granoff’s School of Music, Hopkins was among several well-known and respected alumni, Dizzy Gillespie and Sonny Fortune, and Hopkins’ close friend, John Coltrane attended there with him. .
Several years later, Hopkins and three talented musicians formed the Ernie Hopkins Quartet. Locally, two establishments known to cater to the Philadelphia Jazz community, Warm Daddy’s and Zanzibar Blue listed the Ernie Hopkins Quartet as their headliner act. When interviewed, his son, Rev. Dr. William Nowell Sr., said he remembered his father spending every weekend alternating between Zanzibar Blue and Warm Daddy’s where he played tenor sax, keyboard, piano, organ and even stretched his musical ability in vocalizing.... all of which he did superbly. His quartet often backed up Juanita Holiday and was on her album “To Joe With Love.” Ernie Hopkin’s also had a cut on the album, “Big Legs/Stormy Monday,” a duet with Holiday.
His musical talent opened many doors. In the 1990's when Philadelphia, PA launched a national advertising campaign to increase tourism, Pastor Hopkins was pictured with his saxophone on several billboards and posters at the airport and around the city. Son William remembered his father and the quartet strutting in the annual Mummer’s Day parades from 1992-2001 entered as the “Oldtimers” group. In the year 2000, he traveled to India as a special ambassador for the United States along with other musicians in a cultural exchange program.
In 1977, he founded and pastored the Evangelistic Temple of “I Am.” The house of worship (i.e., church), was ordained by God as a School of Teaching and was also referred to as the "Filling Station" because upon worshiping there people said they left filled with the Holy Ghost. His ministry spanned more than 40 years. Many souls were saved and miracles and blessings performed as a result of the anointed teaching and deliverance services conducted by Reverend Hopkins. He became a leader to so many people through his teaching, guidance and nurturing about the power of God. He inspired everyone to know and realize their own self-worth. He challenged everyone he met and taught them to be the best that they could. Hopkins said they should always know and believe that we have God given talents within ourselves.
Jazz great, Charlie Parker, once said, “Don't play the saxophone. Let it play you.”
Rest in Peace, Hoppy, and thank you for letting us enjoy hearing your saxophone play you.