Lionel Hampton
Background information
Birth nameLionel Leo Hampton
Born(1908-04-20)April 20, 1908
Louisville, Kentucky, U.S.
DiedAugust 31, 2002(2002-08-31) (aged 94)
New York City, U.S.
  • Musician
  • composer
  • bandleader
Years active1927–2002

Lionel Leo Hampton (April 20, 1908 – August 31, 2002) was an American jazz vibraphonist, drummer, percussionist, and bandleader. Hampton worked with jazz musicians from Teddy Wilson, 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 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1996.


Early life

Lionel Hampton was born in 1908 in Louisville, Kentucky, and was raised by his mother. Shortly after he was born, he and his mother moved to her hometown of 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 began to play drums.[5] Hampton was raised Catholic, and started out playing fife and drum at the Holy Rosary Academy near Chicago.[6][7]

Early career

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. While he lived in Chicago, Hampton saw Louis Armstrong at the Vendome, recalling that the entire audience went crazy after his first solo.[8]

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.[9]

During this period, he began practicing on the vibraphone. In 1930 Louis Armstrong came to California and hired the Les Hite band for performances and recordings. Armstrong was impressed with Hampton's playing after Hampton reproduced Armstrong's solo on the vibraphone and asked him to play behind him like that during vocal choruses.[10] 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 tremolo.[11]

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).[12]

With Benny Goodman

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[13]

Also in November 1936,[14] 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 soon became the Benny Goodman Quartet with pianist Teddy Wilson and drummer Gene Krupa completing the lineup. The Trio and Quartet were among the first racially integrated jazz groups to perform before audiences,[13][15] and were a leading small group of the day.

Lionel Hampton Orchestra

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.[14]

Hampton's orchestra developed a high profile during the 1940s and early 1950s. His third recording with them in 1942 produced the 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 known version is the big band version recorded for Decca on May 26, 1942,[16] in a new arrangement by Hampton's pianist Milt Buckner.[17] The 78 RPM disc became successful enough for Hampton to record "Flyin' Home #2" in 1944, this time a feature for 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 to the late 1970s.[18] In 1947, Hamp performed "Stardust" at a "Just Jazz" concert for producer Gene Norman, also featuring Charlie Shavers and Slam Stewart; the recording was issued by Decca. Later, Norman's GNP Crescendo label issued the remaining tracks from the concert.

Hampton was a featured artist at numerous Cavalcade of Jazz concerts held at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles and produced by Leon Hefflin Sr.[19] His first performance was at the second Cavalcade of Jazz concert held on October 12, 1946, and also featured Jack McVea, Slim Gaillard, T-Bone Walker, the Honeydrippers and Louis Armstrong.

The fifth Cavalcade of Jazz concert was held in two locations, Wrigley Field in Los Angeles and Lane Field in San Diego, July 10, 1949, and September 3, 1949, respectively. Betty Carter, Jimmy Witherspoon, Buddy Banks, Smiley Turner and Big Jay McNeely also played with Hampton.

It was at the sixth Cavalcade of Jazz, June 25, 1950, that Hampton's playing precipitated the closest thing to a riot in the show's eventful history. Lionel and his band paraded around the ball park's infield playing ‘Flying High’.[20] The huge crowd, around 14,000, went berserk, tossed cushions, coats, hats, programs, and just about anything else they could lay hands on and swarmed on the field.[21] Dinah Washington, Roy Milton, PeeWee Crayton, Lillie Greenwood, Tiny Davis and Her Hell Divers[22] were also featured.

His final Cavalcade of Jazz concert held on July 24, 1955 (Eleventh) also featured Big Jay McNeely, The Medallions, The Penguins and James Moody and his Orchestra.[23]

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 had significant careers. They included bassist Charles Mingus, saxophonist Johnny Griffin, guitarist Wes Montgomery, vocalist Dinah Washington, and vocal stylist "Little" Jimmy Scott. Other noteworthy band members were trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie, Cat Anderson, Kenny Dorham, and Snooky Young, trombonist Jimmy Cleveland, and saxophonists Jerome Richardson and Curtis Lowe.[24]

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.[25] That same year, Hampton received a Papal Medal from Pope Paul VI.

Later career

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.[14][26]

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.[27] In 1987, the UI's school of music was renamed for Hampton, the first university music school named for a jazz musician.

During much of the 1980s, some notable sidemen in Hampton's orchestra included Thomas Chapin, Paul Jeffrey, Frankie Dunlop, Arvell Shaw, John Colianni, Oliver Jackson and George Duvivier. 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][14][28] On April 15, 2002, the United States Congress celebrated Hampton's life and "resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), That the Congress, on behalf of the American people, extends its birthday greetings and best wishes to Lionel Hampton on the occasion of his 94th birthday."[29]

Hampton died from congestive heart failure at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York City, on August 31, 2002.[30] 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.[30][31] Speakers at his funeral included U.S. representatives Charles Rangel and John Conyers and former President George H. W. Bush.[32]

Personal life

Hampton in 1997

On November 11, 1936, in Yuma, Arizona, Lionel Hampton married Gladys Riddle (1913–1971).[33] Gladys was Lionel's business manager throughout much of his career. Many musicians recall that Lionel ran the music and Gladys ran the business.

Around 1945 or 1946, he handed a pair of vibraphone mallets to then-five year old (later jazz musician) Roy Ayers.

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.[34]

In January 1997, his apartment caught fire and destroyed his awards and belongings; Hampton escaped uninjured.[35]


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.[36] He served as vice-chairman of the New York Republican County Committee for some years[37] and also was a member of the New York City Human Rights Commission.[6] He served as Director of Special Events for Gerald Ford's 1976 re-election campaign.[38] Hampton donated almost $300,000 to Republican campaigns and committees throughout his lifetime.[39] However, in 1996 he endorsed Clinton/Gore, saying that the Republican party, which he had joined because it was the party of Lincoln, no longer represented moderates like himself.[40]


President George W. Bush honors Lionel Hampton during a ceremony recognizing Black Music Month in the White House in 2001.


Compilations and original issues

Year Album Notes Label
1937–39 Benny Goodman – The Complete RCA Victor Small Group Recordings [3CD] along with Teddy Wilson and Gene Krupa, appearing as a sideman for Benny Goodman RCA/BMG 68764
1937–39 Hot Mallets, Vol. 1 the All-Star groups including appearances by Cootie Williams, Johnny Hodges, Harry James, Benny Carter, Chu Berry, Ziggy Elman, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Charlie Christian Bluebird RCA 6458-2-RB
1937–39 The Jumpin' Jive, Vol. 2 the All-Star groups including appearances by Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter, Chu Berry, Ziggy Elman, Dizzy Gillespie Bluebird RCA 2433-2-RB
1938 Benny Goodman – The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert [2LP] along with Teddy Wilson and Gene Krupa, appearing as a sideman for Benny Goodman Columbia SL-160
1939–40 Tempo And Swing, Vol. 3 the All-Star groups including appearances by Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Nat "King" Cole, Oscar Moore, Helen Forrest Bluebird RCA 66039-2
1945 All American Award Concert recorded April 15, 1945, at Carnegie Hall Decca DL-8088 (12" LP)
1947 Gene Norman Presents Just Jazz (AKA The "Original" Star Dust) the famous "Just Jazz" jam session; recorded August 4, 1947, at the Civic Auditorium, Pasadena CA Decca DL-7013 (10" LP); DL-9055 (12" LP); DL-74194
1947 Lionel Hampton With The Just Jazz All Stars second volume of the previous set; with Charlie Shavers, Willie Smith, Corky Corcoran, Milt Buckner, Slam Stewart, Jackie Mills, Lee Young GNP Crescendo GNP-15 (12" LP)/various Vogue 78s/London Records (1972 transfer)
1947 Hamp's Boogie Woogie a 4-disc collection of 78rpm recordings: #23836, #23837, #23838, #23839, includes 6 tracks by Hampton & His Orchestra, plus 1 track by His Septet, and 1 track by His Quartet Decca A-523; DL-5230 (10" LP)
1948 New Movements In Be-Bop a 4-disc collection of 78rpm recordings: #24428, #24429, #24430, #24431, includes 4 tracks by Hampton & His Orchestra, and 4 tracks by Hampton & His Sextet Decca A-661; DL-5222 (10" LP)
1951 Moonglow a 4-disc collection of 78rpm recordings: #27372, #27373, #27374, #27375, includes 8 tracks by Hampton & His Sextet; the 12" LP contains 3 extra tracks Decca A-804; DL-5297 (10" LP); DL-8230 (12" LP)
1953 Lionel Hampton's Paris All Stars (AKA Jazz Time Paris) a CD compilation of Vogue LD-166, LD-167, LD-168 (all 10" LPs); all material recorded September 28, 1953 RCA/BMG 51150
1953 Hamp In Paris recorded November 30, 1953; with Milton "Mezz" Mezzrow EmArcy MG-26037 (10" LP); MG-36032 (12" LP)
1953 Crazy Hamp second volume of the previous set; both 10" LPs (8 tracks worth) reissued on the 12" LP EmArcy MG-26038 (10" LP); MG-36032 (12" LP)
1954 The Lionel Hampton Quintet with Buddy DeFranco, Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown, Buddy Rich; includes a 17-minute jam on "Flyin' Home". ––––– NOTE: there is also a 5-CD box set [731455979725] of the complete Verve recordings of Hampton's quartets and quintets with Peterson, as well as a number of other single-disc compilations. Clef MGC-628; Verve
1955 Crazy Rhythm recorded March 18, 1955 EmArcy MG-36034
1955 Jam Session In Paris second volume of the previous set EmArcy MG-36035
1955 Hamp and Getz with Stan Getz, Lou Levy, Leroy Vinnegar, Shelly Manne Norgran MGN-1037; Verve
1955 Oh Rock! contains 12 of the 21 tracks that Hampton & His Orchestra recorded for the MGM label in 1951. MGM E-285 (10" LP); E-3386 (12" LP)
1956 Wailin' At The Trianon Columbia CL-711
1957 Jazz Flamenco recorded June 30, 1956, in Madrid, Spain; with Maria Angelica on castanets RCA Victor LPM-1422
1958 Lionel ... Plays Drums, Vibes, Piano Audio Fidelity AFSD-5849; Avid
1958 The High & The Mighty Supervised by Norman Granz Columbia 33CX10146[42]
1959 Hamp's Big Band Audio Fidelity AFSD-5913; Avid
1959 Golden Vibes with "Reeds And Rhythm" (a reed quintet + rhythm section) Columbia CL-1304/CS-8110; Collectables
1960 Silver Vibes with "Trombones And Rhythm" (a trombone quartet + rhythm section) Columbia CL-1486/CS-8277; Collectables
1961 Soft Vibes, Soaring Strings Columbia CL-1661/CS-8461
1962 Many Splendored Vibes Epic BA-16027
1963 The Great Hamp And Little T – Lionel Hampton & Charlie Teagarden In Person recorded live at The Silver Slipper, Las Vegas Coral CRL-757438
1964 Benny Goodman Quartet – Together Again! the reunion with Teddy Wilson and Gene Krupa RCA Victor LPM-2698
1964 You Better Know It!!! with Clark Terry, Ben Webster, Hank Jones, Milt Hinton, Osie Johnson Impulse! AS-78; GRP/Impulse! GRD-140
1972 Them Changes Brunswick BL-754182; Versatile NED-1128
1973 Please Sunrise Brunswick BL-754190
1973 There It Is! Brunswick BL-754198
1974 Stop! I Don't Need No Sympathy! Brunswick BL-754203
1974 Transition with Buddy Rich, Zoot Sims, Teddy Wilson, George Duvivier Groove Merchant GM-3302
1975 The Works! [2LP] Groove Merchant GM-4400
1976 Off Into A Black Thing Brunswick BL-754213
1977 Lionel Hampton And His Jazz Giants 77 with Cat Anderson, Eddie Chamblee, Milt Buckner, Billy Mackel Black & Blue 33.107; BB-870
1977 Lionel Hampton And His Jazz Giants, Vol. 2 second volume of the previous set; 11 tracks from these sessions are reissued on the CD Black & Blue 33.130; BB-870
1977 Lionel Hampton Presents: The Music of Charles Mingus a tentet session of mostly Mingus compositions, numerous ballads; Hampton and Gerry Mulligan are the major soloists with Mingus playing bass. Who's Who In Jazz WWLP-21005
1978 Alive & Jumping with Milt Buckner MPS 15469
1978 Live At The Muzeval 1978 (AKA Live In Emmen/Holland) Timeless SJP-120
1979 Good Vibes recorded 1973; produced by Sonny Lester 51 West/CBS Q-16074
1984 L.A. is my lady (Frank Sinatra's last studio album, with Quincy Jones Orchestra) As one of the most remarcable sideman in the recording sessions, including the Brecker brothers, Frank Foster, Frank Wess, George Benson and many others.
1986 Sentimental Journey reissue of Glad-Hamp GHS-1025 Atlantic 81644
1988 Mostly Blues Musicmasters 5011
1990 Mostly Ballads Musicmasters 5044
1991 Live At The Blue Note (with "The Golden Men of Jazz") jamming with old friends including trumpeters Clark Terry and Harry "Sweets" Edison, trombonist Al Grey, tenors James Moody and Buddy Tate, pianist Hank Jones, bassist Milt Hinton, drummer Grady Tate. Telarc 83308
1992 Just Jazz – Live At The Blue Note second volume of the previous set; again with "The Golden Men of Jazz" Telarc 83313
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., Stevie Wonder MoJazz/Motown 530554
1998 (released 2001) Live at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre [2CD] with Ernie Andrews, Gerald Wiggins Trio, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Teddy Edwards Phillip PR-1530

Other compilations

Year Album Notes Label
1937–40 Swing Classics – Lionel Hampton and His Jazz Groups Recordings from 1937 to 1940; issued 1961 RCA Victor LPM-2318
1939–40 + 56 Greatest Hits – Lionel Hampton Selections from various RCA Victor recordings RCA/BMG 68496
1937–41 The Complete Lionel Hampton Victor Sessions 1937–1941 [5CD][43] All of Hampton's RCA Victor recordings Mosaic MD5-238
1942–50 Hamp's Golden Favorites – Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra Recordings from 1942 to 1950; issued 1962; reissued 1980 Decca DL-4296; MCA 204
1942–50 The Best Of Lionel Hampton [2LP] Recordings from 1942 to 1950; issued 1975 MCA 2-4075
1942–44 Steppin' Out – Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra Recordings from 1942 to 1944; issued 1969; reissued 1980 Jazz Heritage Series; Decca DL-79244; MCA 1315
1945–46 Slide Hamp Slide – Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra Recordings from 1945 to 1946; issued 1980 Jazz Heritage Series; MCA 1323
1945–50 Sweatin' With Hamp – Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra Recordings from 1945 to 1950; issued 1980 Jazz Heritage Series; MCA 1331
1946–49 Rarities – Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra Recordings from 1946 to 1949; issued 1982 Jazz Heritage Series; MCA 1351
1942–63 Hamp – The Legendary Decca Recordings Of Lionel Hampton [2CD] Selections from various Decca recordings GRP/Decca Jazz GRD2-652
1937–49 The Lionel Hampton Story [4CD] Selections from various RCA Victor and Decca recordings + AFRS and V-Disc Proper BOX12

The Chronological ... Classics series

note: every recording by Lionel Hampton & His Orchestra is included in this 12 volume series from the CLASSICS reissue label ...

Glad-Hamp Records

As sideman

With Frank Sinatra


Hampton appeared as himself in the films listed below.

Year Movie Director Genre
1933 Girl Without A Room Ralph Murphy Comedy
1936 Pennies From Heaven Norman Z. McLeod Comedy/Musical
1937 Hollywood Hotel Busby Berkeley Musical/Romance
1938 For Auld Lang Syne ? Documentary
1948 A Song Is Born Howard Hawks Comedy/Musical
1949 Lionel Hampton and His Orchestra Will Cowan Music
1955 Music, Music and Only Music Ernst Matray Comedy
1955 The Benny Goodman Story Valentine Davies Drama
1957 Mister Rock and Roll Charles S. Dubin Drama/Musical
1978 No Maps on My Taps George T. Nierenberg Documentary
1980 But Then She's Betty Carter Michelle Parkerson Documentary


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