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Remembering Lionel Hampton

Series: IJC
Lionel Hampton playing the vibraphone at the University of Idaho, circa 1990

Lionel Hampton (April 20, 1908 – August 31, 2002)

Lionel Hampton was fifteen years old in 1923 when he began his musical career as a drummer. In 1930, when he was called in to a recording session with Louis Armstrong, he discovered the instrument for which he would become famous. During a break in the session Hampton walked over to a vibraphone and started to play. He ended up playing the vibes on a song, which became a hit. Hampton introduced a new voice to jazz and he became known as “King of the Vibes.”

When Benny Goodman heard Hampton play, he invited Hamp to record with him, joining Gene Krupa (drums) and Teddy Wilson (piano) in a group that became the Benny Goodman Quartet in 1936. Hampton and Wilson’s inclusion in the group also marked the “breaking of the color barrier”; the Benny Goodman Quartet was the first racially integrated group of jazz musicians.

Lionel and Gladys Hampton, circa 1950

In 1936, Lionel married Gladys Riddle. Gladys served as his personal manager and developed a reputation as a brilliant businesswoman. It was Gladys who was ultimately responsible for raising the money for Lionel to start his own band.

As a bandleader, Lionel Hampton established the Lionel Hampton Orchestra in 1940. The name Lionel Hampton became world famous overnight and the Lionel Hampton Orchestra became known for its tremendous energy, dazzling showmanship, and first-class jazz musicianship. The group was one of the longest-lived and most consistently popular large ensembles in jazz.

Lionel Hampton first appeared at the University of Idaho Jazz Festival as a featured artist in 1984. Over the next year, Hampton developed a working relationship with the University of Idaho and the jazz festival; in 1985, the festival was re-named in his honor. Hampton’s involvement in the festival contributed to its growth and success as he invited his many musical friends to participate. He attended and performed at every festival from 1984 until 2002.

Lionel Hampton
Lionel Hampton


Photos from University of Idaho Library International Jazz Collections

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