Tenor saxophonist John Hardee was born in Corsicana, Texas, on December 20, 1918. His was a musical family, and while still living at home, he formed part of Dan Carter's Blue Moon Syncopaters, a local group that also included Texas trombonist Tyree Glenn.
Hardee belonged to the Texas tradition of big-toned tenor saxophonists. He attended Bishop College in Marshall, but left school to tour with the Don Albert band from San Antonio during 1937–38. Afterwards he returned to Bishop and graduated with a music degree in 1941. While in the military and stationed in Nyack, New York, from 1941 to 1944, he played clarinet in various army bands, and during this time and after World War II took part in jam sessions at New York City's famed Minton's, as well as at venues on 52nd Street. After his discharge Hardee and his wife moved to Harlem. In 1946 he performed and recorded with Tiny Grimes. During his years in New York Hardee played a number of famed venues including the Apollo Theater in Harlem and the "845" in the Bronx.
In the late 1940s he moved back to Texas and taught school in Wichita Falls until 1955, when he settled in Dallas. There he held a teaching position at Oliver Wendell Holmes High School until his retirement in 1976. Hardee gave his last performance at the Nice Jazz Festival in France in 1975. He died in Dallas on May 18, 1984.
Hardee was reportedly inspired by Swing-Era tenorist Chu Berry of the Fletcher Henderson and Cab Calloway orchestras. The Texan's own solos have been characterized as "heated" and "strongly swinging," "completely without artifice," and also as "soulful" and "steeped simultaneously in raw power and gentle lyricism." In 1946 Hardee recorded for the prestigious Blue Note label, and in the year of his death, Mosaic Records reissued the Blue Note sides. By 2002 several of Hardee's recordings had been released on compact disc, including Hardee's Partee: Forgotten Texas Tenor (2002) and The Definitive Black and Blue Sessions (2002).