Lionel Hampton

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Lionel Hampton
Lionel Hampton, Aquarium, New York, ca. June 1946 (William P. Gottlieb 03841).jpg
Lionel Hampton, 1946
Photo by William P. Gottlieb
Background information
Birth name Lionel Leo Hampton
Born (1908-04-20)April 20, 1908
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
Died August 31, 2002(2002-08-31) (aged 94)
New York City, New York
Genres Swing, big band, mainstream jazz, New York blues
Occupation(s) Musician, composer
Instruments Vibraphone
Years active 1927–2002
Labels Decca
Associated acts Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, Quincy Jones, Louis Armstrong, Gloria Parker

Lionel Leo Hampton (April 20, 1908 – August 31, 2002) was an American jazz vibraphonist, pianist, percussionist, bandleader and actor. Hampton worked with jazz musicians from Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, and Buddy Rich to Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, and Quincy Jones. In 1992, he was inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, and was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1996.


Early life[edit]

Lionel Hampton was born in 1908 in Louisville, Kentucky, and was raised by his grandmother. Shortly after he was born, he and his mother moved to her hometown Birmingham, Alabama.[1][2][3] He spent his early childhood in Kenosha, Wisconsin, before he and his family moved to Chicago, Illinois, in 1916. As a youth, Hampton was a member of the Bud Billiken Club, an alternative to the Boy Scouts of America, which was off limits because of racial segregation.[4] During the 1920s—while still a teenager—Hampton took xylophone lessons from Jimmy Bertrand and started playing drums.[5] Hampton was raised Roman Catholic, and started out playing fife and drum at the Holy Rosary Academy near Chicago.[6][7]

Early career[edit]

Lionel Hampton began his career playing drums for the Chicago Defender Newsboys' Band (led by Major N. Clark Smith) while still a teenager in Chicago. He moved to California 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 City and drummed for the Les Hite band at Sebastian's Cotton Club. One of his trademarks as a drummer was his ability to do stunts with multiple pairs of sticks such as twirling and juggling without missing a beat.[8] 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 in the process.[5] Invented ten years earlier, the vibraphone is essentially a xylophone with metal bars, a sustain pedal, and resonators equipped with electric-powered fans that add vibrato.[9]

While working with the Les Hite band, Hampton also occasionally did some performing with Nat Shilkret and his orchestra. During the early 1930s, he studied music at the University of Southern California. In 1934 he led his own orchestra, and then appeared in the Bing Crosby film Pennies From Heaven (1936) alongside Louis Armstrong (wearing a mask in a scene while playing drums).[10]

With Benny Goodman[edit]

As far as I'm concerned, what he did in those days—and they were hard days in 1937—made it possible for Negroes to have their chance in baseball and other fields.

Lionel Hampton on Benny Goodman[11]

Also in November 1936,[12] the Benny Goodman Orchestra came to Los Angeles to play the Palomar Ballroom. When John Hammond brought Goodman to see Hampton perform, Goodman invited him to join his trio, which thus became the celebrated Benny Goodman Quartet with Teddy Wilson and Gene Krupa completing the lineup. The Trio and Quartet were among the first racially integrated jazz groups to perform before audiences,[11][13] and were a leading small-group of the day.

Lionel Hampton Orchestra[edit]

Lionel Hampton at the Aquarium, New York, c. June 1946 (photograph: William Gottlieb)

While Hampton worked for Goodman in New York, 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.[12]

Hampton's orchestra became 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 anticipated rhythm & blues. Although Hampton first recorded "Flying Home" under his own name with a small group in 1940 for Victor, the best and most famous version is the big band version recorded for Decca on May 26, 1942, in a new arrangement by Hampton's pianist Milt Buckner.[14] The selection became 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.[15] In 1947 he performed "Stardust" at a "Just Jazz" concert for producer Gene Norman, also featuring Charlie Shavers and Slam Stewart; the recording was issued by Norman's label GNP Crescendo.

From the mid-1940s until the early 1950s, Hampton led a lively rhythm & blues band whose Decca Records recordings included numerous young performers who later achieved fame. They included bassist Charles Mingus, saxophonist Johnny Griffin, guitarist Wes Montgomery, vocalist Dinah Washington and keyboardist Milt Buckner. Other noteworthy band members were trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie, Cat Anderson, Kenny Dorham, and Snooky Young; trombonist Jimmy Cleveland, and saxophonists Illinois Jacquet and Jerome Richardson.

The Hampton orchestra that toured Europe in 1953 included Clifford Brown, Gigi Gryce, Anthony Ortega, Monk Montgomery, George Wallington, Art Farmer, Quincy Jones, and singer Annie Ross. Hampton continued to record with small groups and jam sessions during the 1940s and 1950s, with Oscar Peterson, Buddy DeFranco, and others. In 1955, while in California working on The Benny Goodman Story he recorded with Stan Getz and made two albums with Art Tatum for Norman Granz as well as with his own big band.

Hampton performed with Louis Armstrong and Italian singer Lara Saint Paul at the 1968 Sanremo Music Festival in Italy. The performance created a sensation with Italian audiences, as it broke into a real jazz session.[16] That same year, Hampton received a Papal Medal from Pope Paul VI.

Later career[edit]

Lionel Hampton during a concert in Aachen (Germany) on May 19, 1977

During the 1960s, Hampton's groups were in decline; he was still performing what had succeeded for him earlier in his career. He did not fare much better in the 1970s, though he recorded actively for his Who's Who in Jazz record label, which he founded in 1977/1978.[12][17]

Beginning in February 1984, Hampton and his band played at the University of Idaho'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 Paris 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 History in 2001 shortly before his death.[6][12][18]

Lionel Hampton died from congestive heart failure at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York City, on August 31, 2002.[19] He was interred at the Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York. 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 Church in Manhattan; the procession began at The Cotton Club in Harlem.[19][20]

Personal life[edit]

President George W. Bush honors Lionel Hampton during a ceremony recognizing Black Music Month in the East Room of the White House on June 30, 2001.

On November 11, 1936, in Yuma, Arizona, Lionel Hampton married Gladys Riddle (1913–1971).[21] Gladys was Lionel's business manager throughout much of his career. Many musicians recall that Lionel ran the music and Gladys ran the business.

During the 1950s he had a strong interest in Judaism and raised money for Israel. 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.[6] Hampton was also a Thirty-third degree Prince Hall freemason.[22] In January 1997, his apartment caught fire and destroyed his awards and belongings; Hampton escaped uninjured.[23]

Hampton died August 31, 2002 and was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, The Bronx, New York City immediately adjacent to both Miles Davis and Duke Ellington's graves.


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 York in the 1960s, with the help of then Republican governor Nelson Rockefeller. Hampton's wife, Gladys Hampton, also was 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 Jersey.

Hampton was a staunch Republican and served as a delegate to several Republican National Conventions.[24] He served as Vice-Chairman of the New York Republican County Committee for some years[25] and also was a member of the New York City Human Rights Commission.[6] Hampton donated almost $300,000 to Republican campaigns and committees throughout his lifetime.[26]



Year Album Notes Label
1937–39 Benny Goodman -The Complete RCA Victor Small Group Recordings along with Teddy Wilson, appearing as sideman with Benny Goodman RCA Records
1937–39 Hot Mallets, Vol. 1 appearances by Cootie Williams, Johnny Hodges, Harry James, Benny Carter, Chu Berry, Rex Stewart, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Charlie Christian Bluebird
1937–39 The Jumpin Jive, Vol. 2 Bluebird
1938 The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert appearance as sideman for Benny Goodman Columbia
1939–40 Tempo and Swing appearances by Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Nat "King" Cole and Helen Forrest Bluebird
1944 Star Dust the famous "Just Jazz" jam session Verve
1947 with the Just Jazz All Stars Charlie Shavers, Willie Smith, Corky Corcoran, Milt Buckner, Slam Stewart, Jackie Mills, Lee Young GNP Crescendo/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
1958 Golden Vibes with a reed quintet Columbia
1958 Lionel Audio Fidelity
1960 Silver Vibes with a Trombones And Rhythms (Trombone Quartet) Columbia
1963 Benny Goodman Together Again! reunion with Lionel Hampton, Teddy Wilson & Gene Krupa Columbia
1963 You Better Know It!!! with Clark Terry, Ben Webster, Hank Jones, Milt Hinton, Osie Johnson Impulse!
1972 Please Sunrise Brunswick
1974 Transition with Buddy Rich Groove Merchant
1979 Live in Emmen/Holland Timeless Muse
1988 Mostly Blues Jazz Heritage Society
1991 Live at the Blue Note jamming with old friends including trombonist Al Grey Columbia
1995 For the Love of Music featuring Norman Brown, Ron Carter, Roy Haynes, Chaka Khan, Tito Puente, Joshua Redman, Dianne Reeves, Wallace Roney, Patrice Rushen, Grover Washington Jr., and Stevie Wonder Motown Records
Year Album Notes Label
1937–40 Swing Classics – Lionel Hampton and His Jazz Groups Recordings from 1937–1940 Reissued 1961 RCA Victor LPM-2318
1942–45 Steppin' Out – Lionel Hampton and Orchestra Recordings from 1942–1945 Reissued 1980 Decca Jazz Heritage Series DL-79244
1939–56 Greatest Hits Selections from above records RCA Victor
1942–63 Hamp! - GRP/Decca
1937–63 The Lionel Hampton Story Selections from all records and eras above Proper

As sideman[edit]

With Frank Sinatra


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


  1. ^ Giddins, Gary (2002-09-23). "Lionel Hampton, 1908–2002; After 75 Years Onstage, a Well-Earned Rest". The Village Voice. Retrieved 2007-06-10. 
  2. ^ Rick Mattingly. "Lionel Hampton: 1908-2002". PAS Hall of Fame. Percussive Arts Society. Archived from the original on 2008-04-02. 
  3. ^ "Lionel Hampton (1908-2002)". Hall of Composers. United States Marine Band. Archived from the original on 2012-10-19. 
  4. ^ Ehrenhalt, Alan (1996). The Lost City: The Forgotten Virtues of Community in America. Basic Books. p. 152. ISBN 0-465-04193-0. 
  5. ^ a b Yanow, Scott (2001). Classic Jazz. Backbeat Books. p. 94. ISBN 0-87930-659-9. 
  6. ^ a b c d Voce, Steve. "Obituary: Lionel Hampton (The Independent, London)". Retrieved 2007-06-03. 
  7. ^ "Nun Taught Hampton". The Vancouver Sun. January 17, 1958. Retrieved October 29, 2011. 
  8. ^ "DownBeat Magazine". February 4, 1959. Retrieved October 11, 2012. 
  9. ^ Rickert, David. "Lionel Hampton: "Flying Home"". 
  10. ^ Britt, Stan (1989). Dexter Gordon: A Musical Biography. Da Capo Press. p. 31. ISBN 0-306-80361-5. 
  11. ^ a b Firestone, Ross (1994). Swing, Swing, Swing: The Life & Times of Benny Goodman. W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 183–184. ISBN 0-393-31168-6. 
  12. ^ a b c d Yanow, Scott (2000). Swing: Third Ear--The Essential Listening Companion. Backbeat Books. p. 68. ISBN 0-87930-600-9. 
  13. ^ Scott, William B. (1999). New York Modern: The Arts and the City. Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 263. ISBN 0801867932. 
  14. ^ Rickert, David. "Jazz article: "Lionel Hampton: 'Flying Home'"". Retrieved November 29, 2012. 
  15. ^ "Billy Mackel", The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, ed. Barry Kernfeld, 1988.
  16. ^ Lara Saint Paul performs with Lionel Hampton and Louis Armstrong Lara Saint Paul – The Hits
  17. ^ "JAZZ A Film By Ken Burns: Selected Artist Biography – Lionel Hampton". PBS. Retrieved 2014-06-27. 
  18. ^ [1][dead link]
  19. ^ a b Peter Watrous (September 1, 2002). "Lionel Hampton, Who Put Swing In the Vibraphone, Is Dead at 94". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-12-16. Lionel Hampton, whose flamboyant mastery of the vibraphone made him one of the leading figures of the swing era, died yesterday morning at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan. He was 94. … 
  20. ^ "Funeral Services for Lionel Hampton". The New York Times. September 5, 2002. Retrieved 2008-04-09. 
  21. ^ Smith, Jessie Carney, editor (1996). Notable Black American women: Book II. Gale Research, Detroit. p. 275. ISBN 0-8103-9177-5. 
  22. ^ Cox, Joseph (2002). Great Black Men of Masonry. iUniverse. p. 176. ISBN 0-595-22729-5. 
  23. ^ Barron, James (January 9, 1998). "PUBLIC LIVES; More Fallout From Lamp Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-09. 
  24. ^ Jackson, Jeffrey H. (2005). Music And History: Bridging The Disciplines. University Press of Mississippi. p. 102. ISBN 1-57806-762-6. 
  25. ^ "Paid Notice: Deaths HAMPTON, LIONEL". The New York Times. September 10, 2002. Retrieved 2007-06-03. 
  26. ^ "Campaign Contribution Search: Lionel Hampton, 1908-2002". NEWSMEAT. Polity Media, Inc. Archived from the original on 2013-03-11. 

External links[edit]