Washington was born in West Philadelphia in 1930 and was raised in Southwest Philadelphia. He graduated from Murrell Dobbins Career and Technical Education High School in 1948 and was a two-sport athlete, taking up swimming and basketball.
From 1965 through 1990, he worked for Food Fair Services as a warehouse attendant. While there, he won trophies and awards on the company's amateur boxing team. But jazz was always his life and his passion. He studied at private and public institutions, starting to play the saxophone as an elder statesman on Philadelphia's jazz scene since the late 1960s to the mid-1980s.
As a leader, Washington founded the Marlboro Men, a group that toured Haiti, Jamaica and the Virgin Islands. He also performed with Donald Byrd, Jerry Butler, Nat King Cole, Sammy Davis Jr., B.B. King, Diana Ross, Neil Sedaka and Horace Silver.
Washington was married twice and had nine children from his first marriage.