Born in Atlanta, Hicks studied at Lincoln University in Missouri and Boston's Berklee College of Music. In 1963, he moved to New York, where he spent two years in Blakey's Jazz Messengers, two years in Carter's group, and two years in Woody Herman's big band.
In the 1970s, he began leading his own groups, on albums that ranged from "melodic, accessible hard-bop to challenging, fringish post-bop," according to JazzTimes. His sidemen included bassist Walter Booker, drummer Idris Muhammad, drummer Jimmy Cobb, bassist Ron Carter, saxophonist Joshua Redman, and trumpeter Clark Terry; he also recorded regularly with his wife, flutist Elise Woods. Among his late albums were tributes to Mary Lou Williams, Billy Strayhorn, Sonny Clark, and Earl Hines.
He also appeared regularly with saxophonist David Murray, the Mingus Big Band, trumpeter Roy Hargrove, and saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, among others.