Dawn Hampton, A Master of Reinvention
“Were you a diva?” “Oh yeah,” says Dawn Hampton. She doesn’t have to think twice. But then, like any true diva, Hampton is a master of reinvention. Incredibly, the legendary jazz singer who inspired the name for MYKITA / Damir Doma’s DAWN sunglasses started her career at the tender age of three and is still performing today, aged eighty-six. We caught up with the saxophonist-cum-cabaret-sensation-cum-swing-dance-master in New York to give her a pair of the sunglasses that were named after her and celebrate her contribution to the arts.
MYKITA / Damir Doma’s DAWN sunglasses are comfortable yet striking, reflecting Dawn Hampton’s on-stage personality. The frames’ extravagant proportions and marbled luxuriousness are an ode to the diva’s personal style.
MYKITA’s first encounter with Dawn Hampton took place thousands of miles away at the Herräng Dance Camp in Sweden, a key event on the calendar of any serious swing fan. Hampton is a frequent guest of honour, hosting panels and workshops for the thousands of dance fans that flock to the otherwise scarcely inhabited village each summer. Maria, one of MYKITA’s product designers and an aficionado herself, originally met Ms. Hampton there.
This time, Maria caught up with Dawn in New York after one of the lectures she held at Frankie 100, a swing dance festival celebrating what would have been Frankie Manning’s hundredth birthday. Manning was one of the creators of the Lindy Hop and appeared with Dawn as a dancer on the famous dance sequence in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X.
Dawn started her career playing the saxophone in “Deacon Hampton and the Cotton Pickers,” the band her father founded with his twelve children as musicians. They practically grew up on the stage, she says now. Subsequently, during her early twenties, she developed a spiralling jazz singing career in various different ventures with her siblings. Together they made one of their father’s dreams come true when they performed at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1950.
She continued as a soloist, becoming a cabaret sensation in 1960’s New York. Although her voice was weakened by a thyroid operation in 1964, she carried on enrapturing audiences with her singing for another twenty years, offsetting any vocal limitations she’d developed with her charismatic, emotive stage presence. She also began to work more as a songwriter and even took on some singing students, among them Bette Midler, a rising cabaret star herself at the time. In a 1982 review, The New York Times’ John S. Wilson wrote of Dawn: “…her voice, a strong but seemingly uncertain instrument full of quavers, growls, husky descents and high, shimmering airiness, is simply one element in a projection that is built even more on emotional intensity...”
MYKITA / Damir Doma's DAWN sunglasses is now available at all MYKITA shops, the Damir Doma flagship store in Paris, selected opticians and fashion stores worldwide, as well as online at the MYKITA E-Shop.