Fifty years ago, John F. Kennedy granted a presidential pardon to jazz pianist Hampton Hawes and helped make him a legend.
Millions of Americans found inspiration in John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address, but few responded more enthusiastically than jazz pianist Hampton Hawes. Hawes watched the speech from a federal prison hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, where he was serving a 10-year sentence on drug charges. “That’s the right cat,” he later described his reaction to the new president. “Looks like he got some soul and might listen.”
The following day, Hawes told a prison official that he wanted to apply for a presidential pardon and against all odds, President Kennedy responded.
Over fifty years ago, on August 16, 1963, JFK granted executive clemency to the pianist, and thus allowed one of the most talented jazz artists of the era to resume his career.
The Hawes pardon would be one of Kennedy’s last executive acts. Only 98 days later, JFK was shot in Dallas. Kennedy granted clemency to 43 people during his last year in office. Hawes received pardon No. 42.