On 14 June 1775 the Continental Congress resolved to adopt the New England militia, which was blockading the British inside of Boston, into "the American continental army." Continental soldiers became the "regulars" of the American army. Although the Continental Army would essentially disband in 1783 and a new, regular army came into being in 1789, the modern United States Army celebrates 14 June 1775 as its birthday. Congress selected George Washington as commander in chief of the Boston Army. It also authorized the formation of a regiment of "expert riflemen." This unit was the first formation raised as a Continental Army regiment.
A congressional committee proceeded to take the necessary steps to organize and administer the army. It established positions for five major staff officers to assist Washington: an adjutant general, a commissary of musters, a paymaster general, a commissary general, and a quartermaster general. The quartermaster
general was the most important staff officer, responsible for the delivery of supplies, arranging the camp, regulating marches, and establishing the army's order of battle. The army's supply and support services never functioned efficiently. This failure, coupled with the depreciation in the currency, repeatedly brought the army close to collapse.
Congress also created the ranks of major general and brigadier general to serve as the commander in chief's senior subordinates. Among other important measures, Congress issued paper money to finance the war and adopted articles of war to provide a legal system for discipline. Congress also established quotas for each colony whereby individual colonies raised units and then transferred them into the Continental service. During 1775 about 27,500 Continental soldiers were on the payrolls.
continental regiments of 1776
During the summer of 1775 Washington worked with Congress to reorganize the Boston Army. Central to this effort was the creation of a standardized regimental structure. On 4 November 1775 Congress approved the reorganization of Washington's infantry into twenty-six regiments and one regiment of riflemen. Each regiment had a colonel, lieutenant colonel, and major along with a small staff of ten men. Eight identical companies composed a regiment. Each company had four officers, two musicians, eight noncommissioned officers, and seventy-six privates. At full strength the regiment numbered 728 men. Because of sickness, desertion, battle loss, and men assigned to detached duty, a regiment never entered battle at full strength.
The Continental organization differed in several important ways from its British counterpart. Individual Continental companies were larger, and they deployed in two ranks whereas British doctrine formally called for deployment in three ranks. This latter difference stemmed from the different backgrounds of the two armies. Warfare in Europe shaped the British organization, with an emphasis on close order. The soldiers packed elbow to elbow so as to maintain the discipline and solidity required to conduct a bayonet charge. In contrast, the colonial tradition developed in fights against the Indians and the French in wooded terrain. In such combat aimed fire and the ability to maneuver were supreme. Soldiers standing in a third rank could not efficiently fire their muskets. A looser order featuring two ranks had more firepower and could maneuver more handily in woodland combat.
The reorganization of the army extended to the artillery. For administrative convenience the existing New England units merged into a single regiment of twelve companies. Each company had five officers and fifty-eight enlisted men. The enlisted men included eight noncommissioned officers, eight bombardiers, eight gunners, and thirty-two matrosses (low skilled soldiers who provided the physical labor to handle and fire the artillery). Privates filled the last three categories; but because the bombardiers and gunners were specialists who possessed technical knowledge about the artillery, they received higher pay. Henry Knox commanded the regiment with the rank of colonel. His senior subordinates included two lieutenant colonels and two majors. Nine men served on Knox's staff. As was the case with the infantry, the artillery in the field never attained its theoretical strength. Individual companies and even individual artillery pieces operated according to need.
The organizational structure set in 1775 applied to Washington's army and to the nine infantry regiments operating on the Canadian border. Elsewhere, most notably in the South, regiments continued to be organized on an ad hoc basis. The next reform addressed this problem.
enlisting for the duration
Most terms of enlistment expired on 31 December 1776. In the fall of that year Congress and military leaders again reorganized the army. Congress adopted a plan for eighty-eight regiments. Each state had a quota based on its population. Soldiers were to enlist for three years or for the war's duration. Congress continued to commission all officers but individual states could nominate candidates up to and including the rank of colonel. The states were responsible for providing arms, equipment, and clothing. To encourage reenlistment, Congress established cash bonuses and liberal postwar land grants for soldiers who enlisted for the duration of the war. At the same time, Congress modified the articles of war by copying many British practices. The list of capital offensives expanded while the maximum corporal punishment increased from thirty-nine to one hundred lashes. Washington himself promoted these harsher rules because he had concluded that softer discipline did not adequately deter misbehavior.
Because the states were unable to meet their quotas, the eighty-eight-regiment army never came into existence. Neither the bounties nor the first American wartime draft succeeded in filling the ranks. As a result, the entire Continental Army never reached a strength of thirty thousand, and Washington seldom was able to bring fifteen thousand soldiers to a battle. Most recruits for the rank and file were under twenty-three years old. These young men were without property. Some enlisted because they were truly dedicated to the Revolution's ideals. Others enlisted for the money, the annual issue of clothing, and the promise of land once the war ended. All recruits soon learned that government promises were easily broken and neglect and hardship followed. In spite of all this, a vital hard core remained in service, motivated by a mix of patriotism and group loyalty. Men of means avoided service by hiring replacements. Officers, prominent leaders in their local communities, were a class apart. The basis for their selection was experience, the ability to raise men, and their political reliability.
The campaign of 1776 demonstrated to Washington that he needed more men, more artillery, and a cavalry force. Thus, in one more congressional measure taken to increase the army's size, Congress authorized sixteen additional regiments along with two more artillery regiments and three thousand light horse, or light cavalry. This marked a change from previous authorizations, under which state governments organized the additional regiments because Congress was unable to afford cavalry. Washington conceived that reconnaissance, not combat, was the cavalry's major duty. He suggested a regimental organization featuring three field officers: colonel, lieutenant colonel, major, a thirteen-man staff, and six troops each with three officers, six noncommissioned officers, a trumpeter, and thirty-four privates. On 14 March 1777 Congress approved this organization. Four regiments of Continental Light Dragoons formed. However, because the horses and specialized equipment that cavalry required were expensive, the four regiments were always well under strength.
The winter of 1777–1778 at Valley Forge was the first of a series of annual survival trials for the new Continental Army. The Continentals shrank to a hard core of some six thousand men. They were ill fed and ill clothed. Weeks passed without meat, and men were forced to boil and eat their shoes. Although the army suffered enormous hardship, it also received professional military training from European experts, most notably Frederick von Steuben. Steuben developed a new system of drill suited to American soldiers and American terrain. The result was a dramatic improvement in the Continental Army's fighting ability. Consequently, for the first time in the war, the Continental Army that left Valley Forge in the late spring of 1778 was capable of meeting the British on equal terms.
tactical combat in the american revolution
Of the three military arms—infantry, cavalry, and artillery—the infantry was by far the dominant. Cavalry and artillery played useful supporting roles, but the infantry was the "queen of battle" in the Revolutionary War.
The relative inefficiency of the period's firearms dictated infantry tactics and formations. The infantry soldier's basic weapon was a long-barreled (40 to 46 inches), large caliber (.65 to .80), heavy (8 to 12 pounds), smoothbore, single-shot musket. Continental infantry began the war using British muskets taken from captured arsenals, gleaned from the battlefield, or inherited from earlier colonial wars. Later, most wielded one of the some 100,000 French muskets shipped to America during the war. Contrary to popular legend, among the Continentals only the soldiers in the rifle regiment carried the famous long rifle. The musket fired a solid lead ball that carried about three hundred yards. Because of the barrel's smoothbore, the musket could not reliably hit a target at distances over one hundred yards. Consequently, soldiers tried to hold their fire until the enemy was within that distance. Such waiting required steady nerves.
To maximize firepower, regiments deployed into line. Led by their officers, to the rousing sounds of fife and drum and with national and regimental flags flying in the center of the formation, the attacking force rapidly marched into musket range. At ranges as close as forty yards, the opposing lines traded volleys (massed group fire). When a big, heavy lead ball struck human flesh it had tremendous stopping power, felling a soldier as if he had been hit by a sledgehammer. A head, lung, or belly wound was usually fatal. A smashed arm or leg usually required an amputation. The soldiers well knew that the wounded faced a very perilous future at the hands of the army's surgeons. Consequently, although a regiment might lose only a small percentage of its strength in a firefight, the sight of friends and comrades falling with dreadful wounds had a heavy effect on morale.
After a volley, a bayonet charge could clinch victory. At the order "fix bayonets," soldiers attached a socket bayonet over the musket's muzzle. Although the fourteen- to nineteen-inch-long sword bayonet actually inflicted a very small percentage of battle-field losses, the terrifying sight of a charging line of bayonets was deeply unnerving. Soldiers typically broke and ran instead of engaging in hand-to-hand fighting. The disciplined bayonet charge was the hallmark of the British infantry. The Continental Army acquired the ability to conduct such a charge following its training during the first Valley Forge winter of 1777–1778.
The period's field artillery included long smoothbore guns and shorter smoothbore howitzers. Guns fired solid iron balls or canister; howitzers fired explosive shells or canister. A canister shot was a tin container tightly packed with musket balls. The can left the muzzle, shattered, and released a shotgun-like spread of musket balls. Canister, with an effective range of 500 yards or less, combined lethal fire-power with the confusion and terror caused by sudden, intense casualties. Although a twelve-pounder field gun (so named because it fired a twelve-pound solid ball) had a maximum range of 3,500 yards, accurate long fire was beyond the gunner's technical means. Accordingly, gunners usually held their fire until the target was within 800 yards. Tactically, commanders used long-range field artillery to prepare the way for a charge or defensively to prevent the enemy from closing to decisive range. Battles typically began with a brief exchange of artillery fire. When the target drew close, gunners switched to canister.
Early in the war the Continental Artillery made do with whatever was available in colonial arsenals supplemented by captured British weapons. As the war progressed, the army received European imports, particularly from France, as well as weapons forged domestically.
Cavalry performed important scouting and outpost duties, but the difficulties of maintaining horse-flesh in a relatively barren country greatly hindered the development of a significant mounted arm on either side. Thus, except in the South, mounted charges were rare. The broad savannahs and open pine forests characteristic of the American South offered excellent cavalry country. Here skilled American cavalry leaders such as William Washington and "Lighthorse Harry" Lee led their men into saberwielding melees. In mounted hand-to-hand combat, troopers cut and thrust at their foes using cavalry sabers with a straight or curved blade between thirty-one and thirty-seven inches long and weighing two to four pounds. Cavalry did not attempt frontal charges against formed infantry. Rather, it worked around the infantry's flank or waited until they had lost their formation before charging. Against foot soldiers out of formation, cavalry was lethal.
The purpose of repeated close-order drill was to immunize soldiers from the terror of combat. Only well-trained soldiers could stand unflinching and absorb heavy losses while firing more and faster than the enemy and then charge with the bayonet. During the war's early years the well-trained British soldiers had a considerable discipline advantage over the inexperienced Americans. This advantage faded as the Continental Army acquired experience.
See alsoArmy Culture; Army, U.S.; Gunpowder, Munitions, and Weapons (Military); Military Technology; Militias and Militia Service; Revolution: Military History; Revolution: Military Leadership, American; Soldiers .
Ketchum, Richard M. The Winter Soldiers. New York: Anchor Books, 1991.
Martin, Joseph Plumb. A Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Dangers and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier. Edited by George E. Scheer. New York: New York Times Books, 1968.
Matloff, Maurice, ed. American Military History. Partially revised ed. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History, U.S. Army, 1973.
Neimeyer, Charles Patrick. America Goes to War: A Social History of the Continental Army. New York: New York University Press, 1996.
Peterson, Harold L. The Book of the Continental Soldier; Being a Compleat Account of the Uniforms, Weapons, and Equipment with which He Lived and Fought. Harrisburg, Pa. Stackpole, 1968.
Royster, Charles. A Revolutionary People at War: The Continental Army and American Character, 1775–1783. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979; New York: Norton, 1981.
Wright, Robert K., Jr. The Continental Army. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, U.S. Army, 1983.
James R. Arnold
In simplest terms, the Continental army was the military force that delegates to the Continental Congress agreed to support financially by requisitions on the states. Each state raised a segment of the army, called its “Continental Line” because the troops were to be trained to fight according to European linear tactics. States reinforced, reorganized, and re‐created their lines many times in response to the enormous demand for armed forces during the war; they retained the responsibility for raising, clothing, feeding, and paying their own troops. Congress annually assigned each state a quota of men, leaving each legislature to decide how to fill it. Without effective central management, levels of recruitment and support varied widely. No state raised all the Continentals that Congress thought were required.
At the start of the conflict, Americans raised the same kinds of units they had previously used to fight French, Spanish, and Indian enemies. These units were separate from the militia, which remained responsible for home defense, local political control, and funneling manpower into active service units. The first “Continental” army was born on 15 June 1775, when Congress adopted the thirty‐six regiments the four New England governments had created in late April to maintain the siege of Boston after the militia, which had besieged the town after Lexington and Concord, went home. These regiments (plus one from Pennsylvania) so closely resembled their French and Indian War predecessors that the first campaign of the new conflict was, in terms of the composition of American forces, the last colonial war.
New England soldiers were volunteers who expected to be paid wages comparable to what they would receive in civilian employments, and expected to serve for only a single campaign. (Virginia in late 1775 raised troops for three years as had been its practice during the French and Indian War.) Most soldiers expected to go home in November or early December, and viewed their enlistment as a contract, the terms of which they expected their governments strictly to observe. Recruits enlisted to serve under men they knew, and disciplinary problems arose whenever the men in a unit lost confidence in an officer; discipline was based more on collective agreement among the soldiers than on anything imposed from above. Legislatures selected officers who could persuade their neighbors to enlist incorporated combat veterans of the French and Indian War in the mix of officers. By force of character and example, these men created an army out of an armed mob, and were the principal reason why New England soldiers performed so well at Bunker Hill on 17 June, two weeks before their “Continental” commander arrived from Philadelphia.
The most important military decision Congress made was to appoint George Washington as commander in chief. Regiments from every state except South Carolina and Georgia served at one time or another under Washington's command, and although many units served in other theaters, the name “Continental” army is most closely associated with the force Washington superintended from early July 1775 through late fall 1783. Washington, a veteran of French and Indian War service, insisted that officers act as gentlemen, soldiers obey those whom Congress had set over them, and the army be subordinate to civil authority. He wanted a force modeled after the British army, and capable of defeating the British with linear tactics. He disliked the militia: incapable of remaining in service long enough to be trained in linear tactics, profligate of arms and accoutrements, and unsuited to fulfilling his aspirations to military respectability (sniping at the enemy from behind stone walls was no way to earn a place among the civilized nations of Europe), militiamen remained throughout the war the bane of Washington's existence.
Washington begged Congress to enlist men for more than one year at a time. A minimum of three years of service, he argued, was required to build a proficient army. Congress, more attuned to the ideological problems that standing armies posed, and the practical difficulty of inducing their constituents to serve over the winter, never gave Washington all he wanted. In 1776, it opted again for annual enlistments, although it did expand the term of service from 1 January through 31 December and emphasized the army's “Continental” pretensions by numbering New England regiments sequentially. In late 1776, Congress authorized the states to raise eighty‐eight regiments “for three years or the war,” from 1 January 1777; thereafter, these were the officially preferred terms of enlistment. Massachusetts and Virginia were assigned the most regiments, eighteen apiece, Delaware only one.
Some states raised more Continentals than did others. Massachusetts, with roughly the same total white popu lation as Pennsylvania and Virginia (about 310,000 in 1775), raised perhaps 34,000 men—over twice as many as its two peers in population. Connecticut, with roughly 195,000 white people in 1775, raised more proportionally, and ranked second with about 16,000 Continentals. Virginia probably raised less than 15,000 and North Carolina fewer than 6,000. Of course, states raised men differently—southern states relied more on militiamen than did their northern counterparts—but as these figures indicate, New Englanders and Pennsylvanians predominated in the main army.
As the war dragged on, it became more difficult to find soldiers. States increased bounties, shortened terms, and reluctantly forced men to serve. But conscription was such a distasteful and dangerous exercise of state power that legislatures would use it only in extreme circumstances. More frequently, legislatures tried to reinforce the army with men drawn by incentive or compulsion from the militia for only a few months of summer service. The army's composition thus reflected a bewildering variety of enlistment terms. After 1779, for example, a Connecticut company might have eight or ten privates serving for three years or the war, and twice or three times that number enlisted only for the summer. Washington's complaints to Congress have obscured his genius in building an effective army out of the limited service most Americans were willing to undertake.
Because Congress reckoned military service by individual enlistments—one man serving one time for terms that ranged from one day in the militia to “during the war” in the Continentals—it is impossible to know precisely how many men served in the Continental army. Multiple and consecutive enlistments were commonplace; men crossed from Continental to militia units and back again; recordkeeping left much to be desired during intense campaigning; many muster rolls were lost around New York in 1776, Canada in 1775–76, and in the South in 1780–81. Francis Heitman, an early twentieth‐century authority, estimated that 250,000 individuals performed military service supporting American independence during the war, or about one in four white men (African American men also served in significant numbers in New England units, especially regiments from Rhode Island). Perhaps as many as 120,000 men served in some part of the Continental army. The largest number of Continentals in Washington's army at one time was probably 32,000 men in November 1778; of these, only 21,500 men were fit for duty. The core of the army—men who repeatedly reenlisted and officers who served for several consecutive years—probably numbered less than 15,000 men. Washington's Continentals always had to be reinforced by summertime recruits or militiamen before they could take the field.
A Continental soldier's service record could be extremely complex. In Massachusetts, for instance, a minuteman might enlist for the rest of 1775 in what became the Continental army, reenlist in 1776, again in 1777 for three years, again in 1780 for a year, and again in 1781 for the war. Or, tired of continuous Continental service, another 1775 veteran might serve in the militia in 1776 and 1777, and, because he knew his experience was a valuable commodity, enlist in the Continental army for nine months in 1778, nine months in 1779, and six months in 1780, each time collecting the bounty money offered by a government increasingly desperate to fill its quota. A third veteran of 1775 might eschew Continental service altogether and serve in the militia sent to Rhode Island or the Northern army, lending his experience to units that might otherwise appear to have little military value. Similar patterns elsewhere, many even more complex in southern states, illustrate the amalgam of tradition and innovation that was the Continental army.
Who served? Because enthusiasm was highest in 1775, the earlier units offered a better social, economic, and ethnic cross section of society than later units. American society was never perfectly reflected in its army: the colonies had traditionally left the fighting to men willing to accept money to serve, whether voluntarily or under threat of compulsion. As in late colonial armies, some soldiers came from economically disadvantaged groups (including free blacks and Indians), and enlisted because the army offered the best prospects of survival. But the Continental army was not drawn from the dregs of society; nor was it intended to be. Many young men viewed military service, and especially enlistment bounties, as a means to accumulate money. When inflation eroded the value of currency, towns used creative methods to recruit, among others, young men just entering the manpower pool. In Massachusetts in early 1781, for instance, an eighteen‐year‐old who agreed to serve for three years in the Continental army received an enlistment bounty of a few dollars in specie and several hundred dollars in paper money, plus six three‐year‐old cattle to be delivered when he completed his service. The town thus paid him with cattle not yet born, which he might not live to collect!
The quest for economic advancement does not imply lack of patriotism; if the discontinuous character of Continental army service was a nightmare for recruiting officers and Washington, it allowed soldiers the flexibility to combine self‐interest with commitment to the cause. Moreover, many men enlisted and reenlisted in the Continental army for reasons that had less to do with economic or ideological motives than with adventure, camaraderie, and the opportunity for more responsibilities than they might exercise as a civilian—all the factors that have motivated soldiers at other times and in other wars.
Despite its continual turnover in personnel, the Continental army became an effective fighting force. It became a sophisticated, mobile human community, with a population that during the summer campaigning season in most years was exceeded only by Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. The army absorbed tremendous amounts of money and resources to feed, cloth, equip, house, train, transport, and pay its members, and to build and maintain its own infrastructure, including services like baking bread, butchering cattle, constructing shelter, and repairing clothing. Later in the war, especially in 1778–81, a corps of light infantry, formed each year from the best soldiers from each regiment, furnished much of its fighting power. Under Anthony Wayne, light infantrymen captured Stony Point with great élan in 1779; at Yorktown in 1781, ten companies under Alexander Hamilton demonstrated that the American army could field forces equal to the best of Europe. American soldiers did not always look the part. In the South, especially in 1780–81, Continental soldiers counted themselves lucky to have even threadbare uniforms. But their clean muskets, neat cartridge boxes, and quick response to battlefield commands showed them to be the equal of their opponent. Out of sometimes unpromising elements, Americans had crafted a unique military force, one that in the end performed the tasks demanded of it.
[See also Army, U.S.: Colonial and Revolutionary Eras; Conscription; Continental Navy; Revolutionary War: Military and Diplomatic Course.]
Charles Royster , A Revolutionary People at War: The Continental Army and the American Character, 1979.
Robert K. Wright, Jr. , The Continental Army, 1983.
Harold E. Selesky
Vocalist Anthony Hamilton managed to retain "the pre-rap values of old soul" without making his music sound "retro," according to Jim Farber of the Buffalo News. Hamilton's sound, Farber concluded, was instead "wholly contemporary." Hamilton himself described his sound as "Raw, uncut, whoop-that-ass cornbread, straight to the point authentic" to Vanessa Craft of Darkerthanblue.com. Hamilton's unique sound took a while to catch on, and a combination of bad luck and music-industry uncertainty about how to market Hamilton as an artist impeded his progress for years. In the mid-2000s, however, Hamilton's passionate classic soul vocals and elegant falsetto finally conquered radio and music sales charts. With a downhome image completely at odds with the high fashions and jewelry favored by other top African-American male stars in the R&B and hip-hop fields, Hamilton showed that older styles of African-American music remained vital in the 21st century.
A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, Anthony Hamilton was born on January 28, 1971. His "gritty voice," noted Farber, "could only come from someone reared below the Mason-Dixon line." Hamilton agreed, telling
Farber that "I got whooped by a big ole country belt." His religious family allowed very little secular music in the house—only Elvis Presley and the country-themed television comedy show Hee Haw—but there was plenty of music in church. Hamilton's musical career started at age ten in his church choir. Although his recordings rarely have religious content (and "Preacher's Daughter" took direct aim at the behavior of some ministers), Hamilton told Ebony that "[m]y gospel roots are embedded in me, so it's hard to separate it from my music. It's a solid part that will never change." A great deal of the religious influence on Hamilton came from his grandmother, whom he saw collapse and die while she was frying fish.
Gained Life Experience
After he finished high school, Hamilton embarked on a career as a barber. That too helped him understand the world. "It was the best experience, man, getting to work in a place like that," he told classic soul vocalist and major influence Bill Withers in an Interview magazine conversation. "If you're a young man and you're about to go off into the world, go to the barbershop and just listen. Sit back and take notes." For a short time, he told Ebony, he dealt drugs, but hated it: "It was a dead end. A road with no future. Besides, I couldn't stand seeing people weakened by a substance." In the early 1990s he moved to Englewood, New Jersey, near New York City. He fathered two children, one in Charlotte during his teen years, and one after his move, and he continued to be involved with them later in life. Hamilton married gospel singer Tarsha McMillian in 2005, and she brought a son to what became a blended family of three children.
Hamilton had sung in talent shows as a teenager. After his relationship with his sons' mother broke up, he moved from Englewood to New York's Harlem neighborhood. "I needed the energy. I needed to heal," he told Withers. For a period of several months he lived in his car. But Harlem's creative atmosphere did him good, and he began to make connections in the New York music industry. Hamilton's vocal style partially fit into the so-called new jack swing R&B subgenre of the day, and producer (and Charlotte native) Mark Sparks signed him to the Uptown label. As a labelmate to such stars as Mary J. Blige and the vocal group Jodeci, Hamilton plunged into work on recording his debut album.
Hamilton's first brush with the frustrating shifts of the recording industry came when Uptown went out of business, just as his first album was being readied for release. He then signed with MCA, the large label that had absorbed the remnants of Uptown, and he recorded a second album, XTC, in 1996. Paul Clifford of the All Music Guide raved that the album was "an absolutely stunning debut set…a superb fusion of '70s soul and '90s R&B." But with MCA itself in transition, and the Southern presence in African-American music far smaller than it would be a decade later, XTC was ignored by executives and given little promotional support. It faded away with little chart impact but was later rediscovered by Hamilton's new legions of fans in the mid-2000s.
Overcame Setbacks through Hard Work
Refusing to give up despite these setbacks, Hamilton began to work as a songwriter (he eventually placed compositions on albums by Donell Jones and other artists) and as a backup vocalist. He recorded an album's worth of music for Sparks's Soulife label. In 2000 he backed neo-soul star D'Angelo on the latter's Voodoo tour, returning from his international travels to find that Soulife, too, had gone belly up. Two years later, however, Hamilton found the perfect outlet for his talents with a featured vocal slot on the single "Po' Folks" (from the album Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz), by the innovative Kentucky hip-hop group Nappy Roots. "When I got the connection with Nappy Roots, that was when I really started making noise," Hamilton told Craft. The recording garnered a Grammy award nomination in the growing Best Rap/Sung Collaboration category.
Performing "Po' Folks" at a Grammy lunch, Hamilton appeared not in tailored clothes but in the plain trucker's cap that had become his trademark. The simplicity carried a message. "I didn't shave or wear nice clothes—that was my protest," Hamilton told Lorraine Ali of Newsweek. "I was angry at the music industry for the mess they were putting on the radio. It was pretty and all dressed up, but it said nothin'! I came in as dusty as I could. That way, there was nothing to concentrate on but my music, and I sung it like it was my last shot." Hamilton won over the industry attendees was signed to Atlanta's So So Def label by producer Jermaine Dupri.
At a Glance …
Born January 28, 1971, in Charlotte, NC; married Tarsha McMillian (a gospel vocalist), 2005; children: Anthony, Tristen, Romeiro.
Charlotte, NC, barber, 1990s; Uptown label, recording artist (unreleased tracks), 1993(?)-95; MCA, recording artist, 1996-?; sideman and backup singer for various musicians, 1990s; Soulife label, recording artist and songwriter, 1999-2000; Nappy Roots, sang lead vocal on hit "Po' Folks," 2002; So So Def label, recording artist, 2003-.
Grammy award nomination, for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (with Nappy Roots, for "Po' Folks"), 2003; Grammy award nominations, for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance, for Best R&B Song, and for Best Contemporary R&B Album, 2004; Grammy award nomination, for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance, 2005.
Label—So So Def Recordings, 1350 Spring St. NW, #750, Atlanta, GA 30309. Web—www.anthonyhamilton.com.
Often referred to as his debut, Hamilton's 2003 release Comin' from Where I'm From was actually his fourth album. On the strength of "Charlene," a classic soul ballad about a relationship that threatens to dissolve under the pressure of distance, the album rose into Billboard magazine's R&B/Hip-Hop top ten and brought Hamilton four new Grammy nominations (three in 2004 and one, for the later-released "Charlene" single, in 2005). The album went platinum in sales in 2004.
Developed Soulful Music
Many of Hamilton's songs, in contrast to the sensual bounce that dominated urban airwaves, dealt with the downsides of love and life, and some of them, evoking the music of 1970s vocalist Marvin Gaye, had social or political themes. "I…noticed, from your music, that you've been watching the world while you're living in it," Withers told the singer. A group of sides from the Soulife sessions was released (slightly tweaked in the studio) under the title Soulife in 2005 as Hamilton's popularity grew and he worked on material for his next album. Ain't Nobody Worryin' appeared on So So Def at the end of that year, and the serious tone of Hamilton's music intensified.
The album's title was not meant to indicate that people shouldn't worry, but rather that they weren't worrying enough. The title track was born when Hamilton visited his wife's hometown of Cleveland and saw the numerous closed schools in the troubled city. "And even at the schools that are still around, the kids are sharing books. How are you supposed to learn if you don't have a book to read?" he asked Withers. "So I just felt like I wanted to say something about it." The song "Pass Me Over" was about the death of one of Hamilton's friends. But Ain't Nobody Worryin' also contained a generous helping of love songs as well as "Sista Big Bones," a tribute to plus-sized women that provided a fine example of Hamilton's sense of humor.
By 2006 and 2007, Hamilton was earning comparisons to Withers, Al Green, Bobby Womack, and the other great soul artists of the 1970s. Yet he was never classified exclusively as a retro or old-school artist; the variety of producers he employed on his albums tended to create smooth sounds that set off his powerful voice and suggested the instrumental sounds of the 1970s rather than imitating them. "When you put on my music, you can feel like you're being taken care of, kids and parents too," Hamilton told Jet. "All I know is that when people hear me, they're hearing an old ‘familiar’ voice, something that sounds reminiscent of something, someone they heard back in the day. And all of them, the thugs, the young mothers, the old folks, the big Sistas, they all encourage me, they tell me, ‘Keep saying it!’" In 2007, Hamilton's cache of unreleased earlier material was raided once again for the release Southern Comfort on the Merovingian label. Hamilton's long trajectory toward stardom had allowed him to store-up years of material that he seemed to relish being able to finally share. "I'm thankful I was standing in the way when God was throwing out musical talent," Hamilton said in an artist's profile on the Music Life Entertainment Group's Singersroom.com. "I just wanna pass it on to the people and remain humble and shine a little bit…and smile."
XTC, MCA, 1996.
Comin' from Where I'm From, So So Def, 2003.
Soulife, Atlantic/Rhino, 2005.
Ain't Nobody Worryin', So So Def, 2005.
Southern Comfort, Merovingian, 2007.
Contemporary Musicians, volume 58, Thomson Gale, 2006.
Buffalo News, December 18, 2005, p. G8.
Cleveland Scene, May 10, 2006.
Ebony, October 2006, p. 26.
Houston Press, April 26, 2007.
Interview, September 2003, p. 112; February 2006, p. 116.
Jet, February 13, 2006, p. 22.
Newsweek, January 9, 2006, p. 54.
"Anthony Hamilton," All Music Guide,www.allmusic.com (June 18, 2007).
Anthony Hamilton Official Website,www.anthonyhamilton.com (June 18, 2007).
"Anthony Hamilton: A Long Way from Charlotte," Darkerthanblue.com, www.darkerthanblue.co.uk/features.cfm?method=display&ref=4683 (June 18, 2007).
"Artist Profile: Anthony Hamilton," Singersroom.com, www.singersroom.com/exposure/profile-artist-100017.asp (June 18, 2007).
"My music is like the perfect haircut—a Friday-night cut!" neo-soul vocalist and former barber Anthony Hamilton told Dimitri Ehrlich of Interview. "It makes you feel like wanting to put on some nice clothes to go out and have a good time." Plenty of music fans apparently agreed, for Hamilton's rough, impassioned vocals, strongly reminiscent of the classic soul and R&B vocalists of the 1970s, exploded in popularity in the mid-2000s. Hamilton was seasoned by a decade of professional frustration, making it all the sweeter when his hit albums Comin' from Where I'm From (2003) and Ain't Nobody Worryin' (2005) entered the top five of Billboard magazine's Hip-Hop/R&B albums sales chart and the top 20 of the magazine's Billboard 200 chart.
Hamilton was a native of Charlotte, North Carolina. Various inconsistent figures have been given for his age, but he told Bill Withers of Interview in February of 2006 that he was 35, and several other interviews from the end of the previous year listed his age as 34. Thus he was probably born in 1971, a date that would place him in his early 20s as he began his major-label career. Hamilton has played up his Southern roots and pointed to his discipline-heavy upbringing as one source of his gritty vocals: "I got whooped with a big ole country belt," he was quoted as saying in the Buffalo News.
Worked Off Energy by Singing
Hamilton's large family was religious. When he was little, the only secular music he was allowed to hear in the house came from Elvis Presley or from the television country variety show Hee Haw. "Then there was church," Hamilton recalled to Lorraine Ali of Newsweek. "My mom would give me a butterscotch, then a peppermint, then pinch me 'cause I was fidgeting—but I was full of sugar! The only way I could move around was if I sung." Hamilton made his performing debut with his church choir at age ten. Another major influence on Hamilton was his grandmother, whom he saw collapse and die at home. "God is embedded in my mind, in my soul," he explained to Withers. "That's what my grandmother was about, and I can't disconnect from it." After high school Hamilton became a licensed barber.
Despite the strong religious influence in his family, Hamilton did what he described to Tonya Jameson of the Charlotte Observer as "laying and playing around" after he moved north from Charlotte to Englewood, New Jersey. He fathered a son, Anthony, when he was 18, and continued to help raise him (and, later, another son) after his relationship with the mother broke up. Hamilton moved to New York's Harlem neighborhood and began to make some contacts in the city's music scene. With the hard-edged R&B known as new jack swing on the rise, Hamilton was spotted by producer and fellow Charlotte native Mark Sparks and signed to the Uptown label, where Mary J. Blige and onetime Charlotte group Jodeci ruled the roost.
Thus began Hamilton's frustrating pathway through the maze of record industry politics, as several of his recordings disappeared from the radar just as he seemed to be nearing a breakthrough. His problems came partly from bad luck, and partly from the fact that while new jack swing and other forms of urban neo-soul were well underway in the 1990s, Hamilton's deeper rural-Southern sound had to wait until other Southern African-American acts began to drawl their way across the radio dial. By 1995 Hamilton had recorded more than enough music for a debut album, but Uptown went bankrupt. His album XTC was released by Uptown's parent company, MCA, in 1996, but it was lost in the restructuring shuffle, given little promotional backing, and allowed to disappear without a trace.
Toured with D'Angelo
Other musicians recognized Hamilton's talents, and he was able to land compositions on albums by Sunshine Anderson ("Last Night") and Donell Jones ("U Know What's Up" and "Pushin'") while looking for another record deal. In 1999 Sparks cofounded a new Los Angeles label, Soulife, and signed Hamilton. About a dozen tracks had been recorded by the time D'Angelo hired Hamilton as a backup singer for a 2000 international tour. The tour was an exciting event for the former barber. "I went all over the world—Europe, Brazil—and had the best time of my life," he told Hip Online. But he returned to the United States to find that Soulife, too, had gone bankrupt.
Depressed about his prospects, Hamilton hung on, making background vocal appearances on tracks by Eve and other artists. He began dating Cleveland native Tarsha McMillian, a gospel singer who later sang backup on his own recordings. The two married in 2005. Finally Hamilton got a break in his favor: he contributed the chorus vocal ("All my life been po'/But it really don't matter no mo'") to the Nappy Roots hit "Po' Folks," which won a Grammy nomination for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. Hamilton performed at an industry pre-Grammy brunch with such stars as Alicia Keys and Prince in attendance. In a situation where everyone else was dressed to the nines, Hamilton came in wearing his trademark trucker's cap. It was both a personal protest and a shrewd move. "I was angry at the music industry for the mess they were putting on the radio," he explained to Ali. "It was all pretty and dressed up, but it said nothin'! I came in as dusty as I could. That way, there was nothing to concentrate on but my music, and I sung like it was my last shot."
The performance inspired music executive Michael Mauldlin to call his son Jermaine Dupri, producer and head of Atlanta's hot So So Def label, and tell him to audition Hamilton without delay. Within 48 hours of meeting Dupri, Hamilton had been signed to So So Def. His album Comin' from Where I'm From was released in 2003 and sold 1.2 million copies, even though Hamilton's name was mostly unknown to the music public. His denim-and-cap look diverged completely from the name fashions and jewelry of other African-American male artists of the day. The single "Charlene," a classic romantic soul ballad, was one of the major urban radio hits of the year, and the album earned Hamilton three Grammy nominations.
For the Record …
Born c. 1971 in Charlotte, NC; married Tarsha McMillian (a gospel vocalist), 2005; children: Anthony, Tristen, Romeiro.
Worked as barber in Charlotte, NC; moved to Englewood, NJ; moved to New York City, 1993; signed to Uptown label; debut album XTC released with little promotion by parent company MCA after Uptown's demise, 1996; signed to Soulife label; toured with D'Angelo but returned to find Soulife defunct, 2000; wrote songs for Donell Jones, Eve, and other artists; sang lead vocal on Nappy Roots hit "Po' Folks," 2002; signed to So So Def label, released Comin' from Where I'm From, 2003; released Ain't Nobody Worryin', 2005.
Addresses: Record company—So So Def Recordings, 1350 Spring St. NW, #750, Atlanta, GA 30309. Website—Anthony Hamilton Official Website: http://www.anthonyhamilton.com.
Best R&B Release
Sales of that album built slowly through word of mouth, and interest in Hamilton's earlier recordings developed. Atlantic released a group of the Soulife sides under the title Soulife in 2005, and Hamilton's sophomore So So Def release, Ain't Nobody Worryin', followed later that year. Whereas many hip-hop and R&B albums featured one or more high-profile guest stars, Hamilton went at it alone. The sense of the album's title was not that people shouldn't worry, but that sometimes they needed to do a bit more worrying, The album contained several songs, including "Preacher's Daughter" and the title track, that looked back to the social commentary of 1970s vocalist Marvin Gaye. The album also contained a generous sampling of love songs as well as "Sista Big Bones," a good-natured ode to well-built women. People called the new album the best R&B release of the year. Tom Sinclair of Entertainment Weekly declared that "Hamilton's Southern-fried slow jams go down easier than a plate of grits and gravy," and the album climbed the charts in early 2006, on track to match or eclipse the performance of Comin' from Where I'm From.
Gaye was one of several 1970s artists to whom Hamilton was often compared; others included Al Green, Bobby Womack, and Bill Withers. Hamilton's voice had an unusual coarse timbre, and much of his material looked back to classic styles. Many of his songs used an organ, and there was a religious undertone to some of them. Yet his music did not seem exclusively retro or old-school. A variety of producers employed on his recordings created smooth, modern sonic backdrops—evocations of classic soul instrumental sounds rather than reproductions of them—that made Hamilton's music fit in with Southern hip-hop styles. As much as any other artist, Anthony Hamilton demonstrated the continuing vitality of older styles of soul and R&B in an era dominated by hip-hop.
XTC, MCA, 1996.
Comin' from Where I'm From, So So Def, 2003.
Soulife, Atlantic/Rhino, 2005.
Ain't Nobody Worryin', So So Def, 2005.
Buffalo News, December 18, 2005, p. G8.
Charlotte Observer, December 22, 2005.
Entertainment Weekly, December 16, 2005, p. 79.
Essence, December 2003, p. 148.
Interview, September 2003, p. 112; February 2006, p. 116.
Jet, February 13, 2006, p. 22.
Newsweek, January 9, 2006, p. 54.
People, October 13, 2004, p. 44.
"Anthony Hamilton," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (March 4, 2006).
"Anthony Hamilton," Hip Online, http://www.hiponline.com (March 4, 2006).