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Tue, 04.20.1909

Lionel Hampton, Bandleader born

Hampton (at Newport)

On this date, in 1909, Lionel Hampton was born. He was a Black musician and composer. He was one of the first jazz vibraphonists and was a jazz giant since the mid-1930.

From Louisville, Kentucky, he was raised in Chicago.  Hampton began his musical career at an early age. He was a student at the Holy Rosary Academy in Kenosha, Wisconsin, studying under the supervision of the Dominican Sisters. His first instrument was a set of drums and his idol during these early years was drummer Jimmy Bertrand.  Hampton started on drums playing with the "Chicago Defender Newsboys' Band." Louis Armstrong soon became a major influence in his young years. In 1928, he moved to Los Angeles and worked with Armstrong, Paul Howard's Serenaders, and Les Hite.

In 1930 Armstrong hired him on the drums to appear at a Los Angeles nightclub engagement. He was so impressed with Hampton that he invited him to join his big band for a recording session. During the session break, Armstrong led young Hampton to a set of vibes and asked if he knew how to play them. So well-schooled in keyboard studies, Hampton (just) picked up the mallets and played. The first tune cut that day, Memories of You (with Lionel on vibes), became a hit and has remained a classic through the years.

In 1936, Benny Goodman asked Hampton to join his small group, featuring Goodman, Teddy Wilson on piano, and Gene Krupa on drums. They immediately became the legendary Benny Goodman Quartet. Musical history was being made with the brilliant pieces they produced, and because they were the first racially integrated group of jazz musicians, the Swing Era had begun. Moonglow, Dinah, and Vibraphone Blues were immediate hits and remain classics.

Hampton formed his band in the early 1940s. Sunny Side of the Street, Central Avenue Breakdown (his signature tune), Flying Home, and Hamp's Boogie-Woogie all became" top-of-chart best sellers, and the name Lionel Hampton became world-famous. The Lionel Hampton Orchestra had a phenomenal array of sidemen.  Those who started with Hamp were Quincy Jones, Wes Montgomery, Clark Terry, Cat Anderson, Ernie Royal, Joe Newman, and Fats Navarro.

Among his protégés were singers Dinah Washington, Joe Williams, Betty Carter, and Aretha Franklin. Over the years, Hampton received many awards. These include American Goodwill Ambassador, bestowed by Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon, The Papal Medal from Pope Paul I, and sixteen honorary doctorates. In 1992 he received the Kennedy Center Honors Award, a musical distinction he shared that evening with Mstislav Rostropovich.

Hampton mentioned the highlight of his career was when the Music School of the University of Idaho was named the Lionel Hampton School of Music in 1987. It was the first university music school to be named in honor of a jazz musician. As a composer, Hamp's ballad, Midnight Sun (with Johnny Mercer and Sonny Burke) became a classic in American Jazz and popular music. His talent in the symphonic field is also highly respected. Two major symphonic works, King David Suite and Blues Suite have often been performed by leading orchestras worldwide.

Lionel Hampton maintained an astonishing performance schedule in his later years. Despite this, he was devoted to many public service projects. Hampton, whose health failed in recent years, died of heart failure at Mount Sinai Medical Center on August 31, 2002.

To Become a Musician or Singer


Percussive Arts

A Century of Jazz by Roy Carr
Da Capo Press, New York
Copyright 1997
ISBN 0-306-80778-5

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