He studied music at Lincoln University in Missouri and Berklee School of Music in Boston before moving to New York in 1963, where he soon found employment with blues singer Big Maybelle.
He began playing the piano aged seven. His development accelerated once his family moved to Saint Louis, when Hicks was 14. From 1972 to 1973 he taught jazz history and improvisation at Southern Illinois University.
From the early 1980s until his death he performed solo and led his own groups, including the Keystone Trio, with Idris Muhammad and George Mraz.
Hicks played and recorded with jazz artists such as Lee Morgan, David Murray, Joe Lovano, David "Fathead" Newman, Pharoah Sanders, George Mraz, Arthur Blythe, Kenny Barron, and Gary Bartz among others The pianist recorded the seventh instalment of the "Live at Maybeck Recital Hall" series of solo concerts, which were recorded for Concord Records.
The couple married in 2001. Wood survived him, and has led groups dedicated to his music
Hicks was a member of Art Blakey"s Jazz Messengers (1964–1965) and occasionally in the 1970s, worked with Betty Carter (1966–1968, 1975–1980), and was in one of Woody Herman"s groups (1968–1970). From 1983, the flautist Elise Wood was regularly a member of his groups.