- Trained in classical music, he performed excerpts from Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 5 in D at a Chicago Symphony young-people's concert at age 11; formed a jazz ensemble in high school.
- After college, joined trumpeter Donald Byrd's band; played with the Miles Davis Quintet from 1963 to 1968.
- His 1973 funk release Headhunters was the first jazz album to go platinum.
- The video for his Grammy-winning 1983 hit "Rockit" won five awards at the inaugural MTV Video Music Awards show in 1984.
- Won a National Endowment for the Arts "Jazz Master" award in 2004.
- Named the Creative Chair for Jazz of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2010.
- Became an honorary UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador in 2011.
- Is a Buddhist.
- 1998, Grammy — Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s): Winner
- 1983, Grammy — Best R&B Instrumental Performance: Winner
- 1984, Grammy — Best R&B Instrumental Performance: Winner
- 1994, Grammy — Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Individual Or Group: Winner
- 1998, Grammy — Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Individual Or Group: Winner
- 2007, Grammy — Album of the Year: Winner
- 2007, Grammy — Best Contemporary Jazz Album: Winner
- 1996, Grammy — Best Instrumental Composition: Winner
- 2002, Grammy — Best Jazz Instrumental Solo: Winner
- 1987, BAFTA Film Awards — Best Score for a Film: Nominee
- 1987, Golden Globe — Best Original Score - Motion Picture: Nominee
- 2004, Grammy — Best Jazz Instrumental Solo: Winner
- 1986, Oscar — Best Achievement in Music (Original Score): Winner
- 1987, Grammy — Best Instrumental Composition: Winner
- 2002, Grammy — Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group: Winner
- 2010, Grammy — Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals: Winner
- 2010, Grammy — Best Improvised Jazz Solo: Winner
- 0, — :
- Waymon Edward Hancock — Father
- Jessica Dru Hancock — Daughter
- Gudrun Meixner — Wife
- Winnie Belle Griffin Hancock — Mother
- Jean Hancock — Sister
- Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa, United States (BA, 1960)