Jazz Musician. His career as a Jazz musician lasted nearly seven decades beginning in Chicago culminating in international fame. Lionel Hampton lifted the vibes to a place of honor in small-group and big-band jazz. Although born in Kentucky, he considered Birmingham, Alabama his hometown. His father was singer-pianist Charles Hampton who enlisted in the army during World War I, first declared MIA, then dead. The lure of jobs in the industrial North in the postwar induced his mother Gertrude to relocate to Chicago. A brief stay in Kenosha, Wisconsin was his first chance at a formal music lesson when a Dominican nun at Holy Rosary Academy taught him the essentials of playing drums. While attending St. Monica's Catholic School in Chicago, he began selling papers, a pre-requisite for being in the Chicago Defender's Newsboys Band. First he helped carry the bass drum and then played the snare drum. His break came in Los Angeles after his wife Gladys encouraged him to buy a vibraphone and learn to play. While performing at the Paradise nightclub, Benny Goodman and his group walked in, stepped onto the stage and began playing with the band. Thus, Lionel joined another black, Teddy Wilson in the Benny Goodman band. Hampton then appeared with the Goodman quartet at the Pennsylvania Hotel in New York - The first time that black and white ever played a major commercial booking - the racial barrier was broken. In 1940, Lionel formed his own big band which almost instantly became a leader in the Jazz field. 'Sunny Side of the Street, Central Avenue Breakdown, his signature tune, Flying Home, and Hamp's Boogie-Woogie' all became top-of-the-chart best-sellers upon release. As a composer and arranger, he wrote more than 200 works including a major symphonic work, 'King David Suite.' Asked by US President Dwight D. Eisenhower, he served as goodwill ambassador for the United States and his group made many tours to Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the far East. With the shadows of old age covering him, he made his last public appearance at the Moscow Jazz Festival. Illness caught up with him. Admitted to Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, he passed away at the age of 94. Lionel was accorded a New Orleans style Jazz funeral in Manhattan. A 'Jazz Funeral' procession formed outside Harlem's historic Cotton Club. A nine-member band, playing Blues and dirges followed behind Hampton's white wooden hearse as it was drawn by two horses toward Manhattan's Riverside Church. The service laced with Jazz music was led by Rev. James A. Forbes Jr. Many speakers gave tribute to Lionel Hampton before the 2,000 mourners packed inside the upper Manhattan landmark which overlooks the Hudson River, including former US President George Bush. However, it was the music that dominated the two-hour service - A parade of jazz greats: pianist Hank Jones, saxophone player, Illinois Jacquet, trumpeters Clark Terry, Jon Faddis and Roy Hargrove all former associates. Interment followed beside his wife Gladys who died in 1971. She had served as his personal manager, a brilliant businesswoman who was responsible for raising the money to start the band. Honors and awards: President George Bush appointed him to the Board of the Kennedy Center, Washington D.C. The National Medal of the Arts was presented in 1977 by President Clinton at the White House. A vibraphone he played for 15 years was put into the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. He used his own money to construct an affordable housing unit in Harlem. His greatest legacy: He began working with the University of Idaho in the early 1980s to establish his dream for the future of music education. In 1985, the University named its jazz festival for him, and in 1987 the University's music school was named the Lionel Hampton School of Music. Now, the University has launched a multi-million dollar project that will provide a 'home for jazz,' housing the university's Jazz Festival, its School of Music, and its International Jazz Collections, all designed to help teach and preserve jazz.
Bio by: Donald Greyfield
Gladys Riddle Hampton