Early in his career, Hemphill played in the band of Fred Longshaw, which accompanied Bessie Smith on recordings in 1924-25. He was a student at Wilberforce University from 1924, playing in Horace Henderson's student band alongside the likes of Ted and Castor McCord. He moved to New York late in the 1920s, where he played with Benny Carter and Chick Webb before joining the Mills Blue Rhythm Band, playing with this group from 1931 to 1937. He was in Louis Armstrong's band from 1937 to 1944 and Duke Ellington's from 1944 to 1949. In the 1950s he played occasionally in New York but left music due to mounting health problems later in the decade.
- "Shelton Hemphill". The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, ed. Barry Kernfeld, 1991, p. 514.