Hal Kemp

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Hal Kemp
Birth nameJames Hal Kemp
Born(1904-03-27)March 27, 1904
Marion, Alabama, U.S.
DiedDecember 21, 1940(1940-12-21) (aged 36)
Madera, California, U.S.
GenresJazz, swing music, big band
Occupation(s)Bandleader, musician, arranger, composer
InstrumentsAlto saxophone, clarinet
Years active1924–1940

James Hal Kemp (March 27, 1904 – December 21, 1940) was a jazz alto saxophonist, clarinetist, bandleader, composer, and arranger. He was born in Marion, Alabama, and died in Madera, California, following an auto accident. His major recordings were "Got A Date With An Angel", "Heart Of Stone", "Lamplight", "The Music Goes 'Round And Around", "You're The Top", "Bolero", "Gloomy Sunday", "Lullaby Of Broadway", and many others.


At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill he formed his own campus jazz group, the Carolina Club Orchestra. The band recorded for English Columbia and Perfect/Pathé Records in 1924-5. This first group toured Europe in the summer of 1924 under the sponsorship of popular bandleader Paul Specht. Kemp returned to UNC in 1925 and put together a new edition of the Carolina Club Orchestra, featuring classmates and future stars John Scott Trotter, Saxie Dowell, and Skinnay Ennis. In 1926, he was a member of the charter class of the Alpha Rho chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia music fraternity, installed on the Carolina campus in February of that year. In 1927 Kemp turned leadership of the Carolina Club Orchestra over to fellow UNC student Kay Kyser and turned professional. He and Kyser remained close friends for the remainder of Kemp's short life. Hal's band was based in New York City, and included Trotter, Dowell, and Ennis, and a few years later trumpeters Bunny Berigan and Jack Purvis joined the group. The sound was 1920s collegiate jazz. Kemp once again toured Europe in the summer of 1930. This band recorded regularly for Brunswick, English Duophone, Okeh and Melotone Records.

In 1932, during the height of the Depression, Kemp decided to lead the band in a new direction, changing the orchestra's style to that of a dance band (often mistakenly referred to as "sweet"), using muted triple-tonguing trumpets, clarinets playing low sustained notes in unison through large megaphones (an early version of the echo chamber effect), and a double-octave piano.

One of the main reasons for the band's success was arranger John Scott Trotter. Singer Skinnay Ennis had difficulty sustaining notes, so Trotter came up with the idea of filling in these gaps with muted trumpets playing staccato triplets. This gave the band a unique sound, which Johnny Mercer jokingly referred to as sounding like a "typewriter". The saxes often played very complex extremely difficult passages, which won them the praise of fellow musicians. Vocalists with the band during the 1930s included Ennis, Dowell, Bob Allen, Deane Janis, Maxine Gray, Judy Starr, Nan Wynn, and Janet Blair. During the 1930s, Kemp recorded for Brunswick, Vocalion and RCA Victor Records. Hal's band was one of the most popular bands in the 1930s, and was often featured performing on the radio, in shows such as "The Lucky Strike Magic Carpet Show" (1932, NBC), "Midnight Flyers" (1932-1933, NBC), "Penzoil Parade of Melodies" (1933, CBS), "Lavena" (transcribed, 1934), "Eno Penthouse Party" (1934-1935, NBC), "Jarmin Shoe Program" (1935, NBC), "Phil Baker-Good Gulf Oil Program" (1935-1936, NBC), "Gulf Oil-Studebaker Show" (1936, NBC), "Lady Esther Serenade" (1936, NBC), "Chesterfield Time" (aka "Music from Hollywood") (1937, CBS), "Time to Shine" (1938-1939, CBS), and literally thousands of sustained broadcasts. The band also appeared in numerous motion-picture short subjects, and were featured in the 1938 RKO film, "Radio City Revels".

On December 19, 1940, while driving from Los Angeles to a booking in San Francisco, his car collided head-on with a truck. Kemp broke a leg and several ribs, one of which punctured a lung. He developed pneumonia while in the hospital and died two days later.

Kemp's band introduced or promoted numerous popular songs, including "Got a Date With an Angel", "Lamplight", "Heart of Stone", "There's a Small Hotel" and "Three Little Fishies" (written by the band's saxophonist, Saxie Dowell). Art Jarrett took on leadership of Kemp's orchestra in 1941.

Number one hits[edit]

In 1936, Hal Kemp was number one for two weeks with "There's a Small Hotel" and two weeks with "When I'm With You". In 1937, his number one hits were "This Year's Kisses", which was number one for four weeks, and "Where or When", which was number one for one week. One must keep in mind that it is all but impossible to list these since reliable statistics did not exist at the time. This list, most likely having been taken from a book written by Joel Whitburn, should not be taken as the gospel truth, especially since none of the recordings mentioned, except for "Where Or When", were ever reissued in the first 50+ years following Kemp's death, nor were they ever mentioned in any interviews or newspaper/magazine articles of the day, and lastly, these were rarely (if ever) performed on the air by Kemp.


Hal Kemp's compositions included "Blue Rhythm", "In Dutch with the Duchess", "Five Steps to Love", "Off the Beat", and "Workout". His brother T. D. Kemp, Jr., and sister Marie Kemp-Dunaway, in collaboration with bandleader Whitey Kaufman, wrote "Hurry Back, Old Sweetheart of Mine", which was an early Kemp recording. Contrary to popular belief, Kemp did not compose his theme song "(How I'll Miss You) When the Summer is Gone", but purchased the rights to the song in 1937. Also, there is no evidence that he composed "The Same Time, The Same Place".


Mr. Kemp joined Charlotte Chapter, Order of DeMolay, on June 9, 1922.[1] On May 1, 1935, the Grand Council of the Order of DeMolay announced that Mr. Kemp had been designated for its highest honor, the Legion of Honor, for distinguished leadership in a field of endeavor.[2] In 1992, Hal Kemp was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Charlotte Observer, June 9, 1922
  2. ^ Charlotte Observer, May 1, 1935

External links[edit]