b. 11 November 1926, Greensboro, North Carolina, USA. Stokes began playing trumpet at the age of 12, studying formally in high school and in college. In the 40s he played in various minor bands, including one in which a fellow sideman was Lou Donaldson. In 1947 he relocated to New York City where he played with musicians such as Ernie Henry, Duke Jordan, Cecil Payne, Max Roach, Charles Singleton (with whom he made his recording debut), and Randy Weston, before joining Mercer Ellington’s band. He remained there for more than a year with concurrent spells deputising for Shorty Baker in Duke Ellington’s orchestra. During the 50s he played in bands led by Erskine Hawkins, Buddy Johnson, Eddie Wilcox, Andy Kirk, Tiny Bradshaw and guitarist Austin Powell. Stokes was also sometimes in the house band at the Apollo theatre. During the 60s and 70s he freelanced, mainly in New York, playing in pit bands for some Broadway shows, including The Wiz, and also playing jazz gigs with, among others, Bobby Donaldson, with whom he recorded, and the Thad Jones - Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. At the end of the 70s he joined David ‘Panama’ Francis’ Savoy Sultans, an engagement that led to far greater recognition, at home and abroad owing to tours and well-received recordings, than had hitherto been the case. He became popular in Paris, winning the Hot Club De France Award in 1985, and appeared at many festivals.
During the long-running association with Francis he also found time to play with other bands, including those led by Illinois Jacquet, Oliver Jackson, with whom he co-led a recording band, and fellow Francis sideman George Kelly. In the 90s, he played in bands led by Frank Foster and Chuck Folds. In addition to performing, Stokes has also been active in jazz education. Another facet of his talent lies in acting and he has appeared in several television commercials and also in feature films, including Angel Heart (1987) and Malcolm X (1992). Despite working with some important bop musicians during the late 40s and early 50s, Stokes was a swing trumpeter at heart. His playing throughout his career has remained consistent and his solos are always melodic and pleasing.