He earned a Masters in music education in 1952 at Howard University
He gained his first exposure as a jazz pianist, playing for blues singer George Craft at a D.C. club called the OffBeat.
In 1956, he met Billie Holiday. Subsequently, Holiday offered him a job an offer he accepted and an arrangement that lasted some three years.
From 1960-1965, Hopkins played with the house orchestra at the Howard Theater, working with such performers and old friends as Sarah Vaughn, Red Foxx, Slappy White, and the notorious Jewel Box Revue.