Lionel Leo Hampton (April 20, 1908 –
August 31, 2002) was an American jazz vibraphonist, pianist, percussionist, and bandleader. Hampton worked with jazz musicians from Teddy Wilson, Benny Goodman, and Buddy Richto 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.
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. 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. During the 1920s, while still a teenager, Hampton took xylophone lessons from Jimmy Bertrand and began to play drums. Hampton
was raised Roman Catholic, and started out playing fife and drum at the Holy Rosary Academy near Chicago.
November 1936, 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 Teddy Wilson and Gene Krupa completing the lineup. The Trio and Quartet were among the first racially integrated jazz groups to perform before audiences, and were a leading small-group of the day.
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.
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, in a new arrangement by Hampton's pianist Milt Buckner. The
78pm 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. 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.
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, and vocalist Dinah Washington. 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.
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. That same year, Hampton received
a Papal Medal from Pope
Hampton died from congestive heart failure at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York City, on August 31, 2002. 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
On November 11, 1936, in Yuma, Arizona, Lionel Hampton married Gladys Riddle (1913–1971). 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.
Hampton was also a Thirty-third degree Prince
Hall freemason. In January 1997, his
apartment caught fire and destroyed his awards and belongings; Hampton escaped uninjured.
Hampton died from heart failure 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.