Lionel Leo Hampton (April 20, 1908 – August 31, 2002) was an American jazz vibraphonist, pianist, percussionist, bandleader and actor.
One of the all-time great jazz musicians, Lionel Hampton first achieved fame as a member of Benny Goodman's orchestra in the 1930s. Though he also played drums and piano, Hampton is most celebrated for his innovative vibraphone work. Red Norvo introduced the instrument to jazz audiences in the 1920s, but it was Hampton who popularized the sound of what had once been considered only a novelty instrument and turned it into a jazz staple.
Hampton was born in Louisville, Kentucky. After losing his father in WWI, he and his mother settled in Chicago, where Hampton began his professional career as a drummer for local bands. During that time he became friends with saxophonist Les Hite. Hite eventually moved to Los Angeles to form his own orchestra and sent for Hampton in 1927. Hampton moved to the West Coast but Hite was slow to organize, so Hampton began to work with local groups, including Paul Howard's Quality Serenaders, with whom he made his first recording in 1929.
In 1930 Hite finally got organized. Hite's orchestra often accompanied Louis Armstrong on recordings during the early 1930s, offering a great deal of exposure to the young Hampton. It was during this time that he switched to the vibraphone and began to make a name for himself.
(L to R) Barnett Tommy Dorsey, Goodman, Armstrong, Hampton
In 1936 Hampton formed his own group and began an engagement at the Paradise Cafe in Los Angeles. Benny Goodman heard him perform and signed him on as a member of his quartet, breaking what had then been a colour barrier in jazz music. Hampton later worked with Goodman's full orchestra. He became quite popular during his stay with Goodman, performing on many of Goodman's key recordings in the late 1930s.
Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Lionel Hampton
In 1940 Hampton left Goodman to form his own successful orchestra. Band members at various times included Milt Buckner, Illinois Jacquet, Dexter Gordon, and Earl Bostic. Joe Williams and Dinah Washington were vocalists. The group recorded for the Victor, Decca, and Verve labels before disbanding in 1946, falling victim, like so many other orchestras, to the country's changing tastes and the collapse of the big band industry.
Hampton continued leading groups of various sizes, including a new orchestra, up through the 1990s, often playing for presidents and acting as goodwill ambassador for the United States. In 1978 he formed his own record label, Who's Who in Jazz. During the 1980s Hampton worked with the University of Idaho's music program. The university named its jazz festival and music school after him. In 1992, he was inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. In 1997 sadness struck when a fire destroyed his New York apartment and much of his music memorabilia.
Despite strokes and the ravages of age, Lionel Hampton remained a vital force into the 1990s. In January 2001, a vibraphone he had played for 15 years was put into the National Museum of American History. On August 31, 2002, at age 94, Lionel Hampton suffered major heart failure and passed away. (Info edited mainly from Parabrisas)