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 21 to become 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.
At this time (1932–36), he led a fairly successful Harlem band employing many jazz musicians who were later to become famous in their own right such as Edmond Hall, Jabbo Smith and Vic Dickenson (although his records were arranged to feature his piano more than his band). This was his most successful period with long residencies at the Savoy and Roseland ballrooms and at the Cotton Club. In 1937 he took his band on the road with a great deal of success. He broke up the band in 1940 and used his arranging talents working for several non-jazz band leaders and for CBS. In 1948/9 he led a “novelty” band briefly but took a jazz band into The Cafe Society in 1950. From 1951 up until his death, he remained in NYC working mostly as a sideman with other Dixieland bands playing at festivals and various New York clubs and recording. Often under-rated in later years, he was one of jazz’s most important band leaders. He died on 19 February 1984, and was survived by a son and two grandchildren.
Besides Hopkins’ piano being featured within the band, the high-pitched vocals of Orlando Roberson (né Orlando Herbert Roberson; 1909–1977) brought the band a good part of its popularity.