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Lionel Leo Hampton (April 20, 1908 – August 31, 2002), was an American jazz vibraphonist, pianist, percussionist, bandleader and actor. Like Red Norvo, he was one of the first jazz vibraphone players. Hampton ranks among the great names in jazz history, having worked with a who's who of jazz musicians, from Benny Goodman and Buddy Rich to Charlie Parker and Quincy Jones. In 1992, he was inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Famemarker.


Early life

Lionel Hampton was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1908, and was raised by his grandmother. Shortly after he was born, he and his mother moved to her hometown Birmingham, Alabama.. He spent his early childhood in Kenoshamarker, Wisconsinmarker before he and his family moved to Chicagomarker, Illinoismarker in 1916. As a youth, Hampton was a member of the Bud Billiken Club, an alternative to the Boy Scouts of America due to segregation. During the 1920s—while still a teenager—Hampton took xylophone lessons from Jimmy Bertrand and started playing drums. Hampton was raised Roman Catholic, and started out playing fifemarker and drum at the Holy Rosary Academy near Chicago.

Early career

Lionel Hampton began his career playing drums for the Chicago Defender Newsboy's Band while still a teenager in Chicago, a group that was led by Major N. Clark Smith. He moved to Californiamarker in 1927 or 1928, playing drums for the Dixieland Blues-Blowers. He made his recording debut with The Quality Serenaders led by Paul Howard, then left for Culver Citymarker and drummed for the Les Hite band at Sebastian's Cotton Club. During this period he began practicing on the vibraphone. In 1930 Louis Armstrong came to California and hired the Les Hite band, asking Hampton if he would play vibes on two songs. So began his career as a vibraphonist, popularizing the use of the instrument ever since.

While working with the Les Hite band, Hampton also occasionally did some performing with Nat Shilkrer and his orchestra. During the early 1930s he studied music at the University of Southern Californiamarker. In 1934 he led his own orchestra, and then appeared in the 1936 Bing Crosby film Pennies From Heaven alongside Louis Armstrong (wearing a mask in a scene while playing drums).

With Benny Goodman

Also in November 1936, the Benny Goodman Orchestra came to Los Angeles to play the Palomar Ballroom. John Hammond brought Goodman to see Hampton play. Hampton backed Billie Holiday with the Goodman orchestra, which was discovered by Hammond. and Goodman asked Hampton to join the Benny Goodman Trio, made up of Goodman, Teddy Wilson, and Gene Krupa, expanding it into the Benny Goodman Quartet. The Trio and Quartet were among the first racially integrated jazz groups to record and play before wide audiences, and were a leading small-group in an era when jazz was dominated by big bands.

Lionel Hampton Orchestra

Lionel Hampton during a concert in Aachen (Germany) on May 19, 1977
While Hampton worked for Goodman in New Yorkmarker, he recorded with several different small groups known as the Lionel Hampton Orchestra as well as assorted small groups within the Goodman band. In 1940 Hampton left the Goodman organization under amicable circumstances to form his own big band.

Hampton's orchestra became very popular during the 1940s and early 1950s. His third recording with them in 1942 produced a classic version of "Flying Home", featuring a solo by Illinois Jacquet that paved the way for Rhythm & Blues. The selection became very popular, and so in 1944 Hampton recorded "Flying Home, Number Two" featuring Arnett Cobb. The song went on to become the theme song for all three men. Guitarist Billy Mackel first joined Hampton in 1944, and would perform and record with him almost continuously through the late 1970s. In 1947 he recorded Stardust at a "Just Jazz" concert with Charlie Shavers and Slam Stewart produced by Gene Norman.

Hampton's band played in a jazz, merged with rhythm & blues vein from around 1945 to the early 1950s. Represented in recordings on Decca Records, the band included performers that achieved renown in their own right in the 1950s and 1960s, composer and bassist Charles Mingus, saxophonist Johnny Griffin, guitarist Wes Montgomery, vocalist Dinah Washington and keyboardist Milt Buckner. Other noteworthy performers in the orchestra then included trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie, Cat Anderson, Kenny Dorham and Snooky Young, trombonist Jimmy Cleveland and saxophonists Illinois Jacquet and Jerome Richardson.

In 1953 the orchestra toured Europe with Clifford Brown, Gigi Gryce, George Wallington and Art Farmer in his lineup; Quincy Jones was arranger/trumpeter and Annie Ross sang. Hampton continued to record with small groups and jam sessions during the 1940s and 1950s, with groups including Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum and Buddy DeFranco among others.. In 1955 he was in California working on The Benny Goodman Story he was able to record sessions with Stan Getz and Art Tatum for Norman Granz as well as with his own big band.

Hampton performed with Louis Armstrong and Italianmarker singer Lara Saint Paul at the 1968 Sanremo Music Festival in Italymarker. The performance created a sensation with Italian audiences, as it broke into a real jazz session. That same year, Hampton received a Papal Medal from Pope Paul VI.

Later career

During the 1960s, Hampton's groups were in decline; he was still performing what had succeeded for him during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. He did not fare much better in the 1970s, though he recorded actively on the Who's Who Record label.

Beginning in February 1984, Hampton and his band played at the University of Idahomarker's annual jazz festival, which was renamed the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival the following year. In 1987 the UI's school of music was renamed for Hampton, the first university music school named for a jazz musician.

Hampton remained active until a stroke in Parismarker in 1991 led to a collapse on stage. That incident, combined with years of chronic arthritis, forced him to cut back drastically on performances. However, he did play at the Smithsonian National Museum of American Historymarker in 2001 shortly before his death.

Personal life

During the 1950s he had a strong interest in Judaism and raised money for Israelmarker. In 1953 he composed a King David suite and performed it in Israel with the Boston Pops Orchestra. Later in life Hampton became a Christian Scientist. Hampton's wife was his manager throughout much of his career. Many musicians recall that Lionel ran the music and Gladys ran the business. Hampton was a Thirty-three degree Prince Hall freemason in New York, also. In January 1997, his apartment caught fire and destroyed his awards and belongings; Hampton escaped uninjured.

The grave of Lionel Hampton
Hampton died from congestive heart failure on August 31, 2002 at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York Citymarker, and is interred in the Woodlawn Cemeterymarker, Bronx, New Yorkmarker. His funeral was held on September 7, 2002 and featured a performance by Wynton Marsalis and David Ostwald's Gully Low Jazz Band at Riverside Churchmarker in Manhattanmarker; the procession began at The Cotton Clubmarker in Harlemmarker.


Hampton was deeply involved in the construction of various public housing projects, and founded the Lionel Hampton Development Corporation. Construction began with the Lionel Hampton Houses in Harlem, New Yorkmarker in the 1960s, with the help of then Republican governor Nelson Rockefeller. Hampton's wife—Gladys Hampton—also was very involved in construction of a housing project in her name—the Gladys Hampton Houses. Gladys died in 1971. In the 1980s, Hampton built another Housing project called Hampton Hills in Newark, New Jerseymarker. Hampton was a staunch Republican and served as a delegate to several Republican National Conventions during his lifetime. He served as Vice-Chairman of the New York Republican County Committee for some years and also was a member of the New York City Human Rights Commission.

Hampton donated close to $279,000 to Republican campaigns and committees during his lifetime.



Year Album Notes Label
1937–39 Benny Goodman -The Complete RCA Victor Small Group Recordings - RCA Records
1937–39 Hot Mallets, Vol. 1 - Bluebird Records
1937–39 The Jumpin Five, Vol. 2 - Bluebird Records
1938 The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert appearance as sideman for Benny Goodman Columbia Records
1939–40 Tempo and Swing appearances by Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins and Nat "King" Cole Bluebird Records
1944 Star Dust the famous "Just Jazz" jam session Verve Records
1947 with the Just Jazz All Stars Charlie Shavers, Willie Smith, Corky Corcoran, Milt Buckner, Slam Stewart, Jackie Mills, Lee Young Vogue 78s/London Records 1972 transfer
1953–54 The Lionel Hampton Quintet with DeFranco and Peterson. Includes a 17 minute jam on "Flyin Home". There is also a 5CD box of the complete Verve recordings of the quartets and quintets with Peterson, as well as a number of other compilations and selections. Verve Records
1955 Hamp and Getz Verve Records
1958 The Golden Vibes with a reed quintet Columbia Records
1958 Lionel Audio Fidelity
1960 Silver Vibes with a Trombones And Rhythms (Trombone Quartet) Columbia Records
1963 Benny Goodman Together Again! reunion with Lionel Hampton, Teddy Wilson & Gene Krupa Columbia Records
1963 You Better Know It ! with Clark Terry, Ben Webster, Hank Jones, Milt Hinton, Osie Johnson Impulse! Records
1972 Please Sunrise Brunswick Record Corporation
1988 Mostly Blues Jazz Heritage Society
1991 Live at the Blue Note jamming with old friends including trombonist Al Grey Columbia Records

Year Album Notes Label
39–56 Greatest Hits Selections from above records RCA Victor
42–63 Hamp! - GRP/Decca
37–63 The Lionel Hampton Story Selections from all records and eras above Proper


Year Movie Role Director Genre
1933 Girl Without A Room himself Ralph Murphy Comedy
1936 Pennies From Heaven himself Norman Z. McLeod Comedy/Musical
1937 Hollywood Hotel himself Busby Berkeley Musical/Romance
1938 For Auld Lang Syne himself ? Documentary
1948 A Song Is Born himself Howard Hawks Comedy/Musical
1949 Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra himself Will Cowan Music
1955 Musik, Musik and nur Musik himself Ernst Matray Comedy
1955 The Benny Goodman Story himself Valentine Davies Drama
1957 Mister Rock and Roll himself Charles S. Dubin Drama/Musical
1980 But Then She's Betty Carter himself Michelle Parkerson Documentary


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