Lonnie Hamilton hits the high note in the Holy City

By Stefanie

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) - For Lonnie Hamilton it's all about the music, and his start happened by a chance of fate.

"My grandfather, who was my favorite, said one day, 'What do you want for Christmas?' and I said, 'I don't know,' it shocked me when he asked," said Lonnie Hamilton, III. "I said, 'I want a saxophone.' It just popped out, and he said, 'Ok,' so he bought me a saxophone."

From there, Hamilton was hooked. He went on to teach music in Charleston public schools for 20 years and also performed as a member of the world-renown Jenkins Orphanage Band.

"The big thing about it is without the music itself none of this would have happened. If I did not have a band or know how to play music none of it would have happened, because all of it came about by playing music," Hamilton said.

But all of it didn't come about so easy. Hamilton said he faced discrimination and sadness growing up in the segregated south.

"Coming up young you wondered, 'Why me? Why do I have to go through this?'" Hamilton said. "I was limited. There were four things I could do: I could be an undertaker, I could work in the mills, I could be a farmer, and I could be a teacher. those four things I could do."

"Today you have all the opportunities of the world to do, but because the color of my skin I was not allowed to do things like other people."

With perseverance in his blood, Hamilton kept playing to the beat; leaving his mark not only on musical history but for generations to come

"People get together and people work together in order to bring about changes and create the best society we have for all of the people in our communities," Hamilton said.

Lonnie Hamilton, III was the first African-American elected to Charleston's County Council, serving 20 years. The interchange of Interstate 526 and 26 bears his name as does the Charleston County office building.