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Lionel Hampton: his life and legacy
by Tamm E Hunt

Fai click qui per leggere la versione in italiano

The 94 year old Hampton was one of the most extraordinary musicians of the 20th century whose artistic achievements symbolize the impact that jazz music has had on our culture in the 21st century.

Les Hite (Courtesy by www.consolidatedmarkets.com)The gifted bandleader and storied showman who was one of the most celebrated musicians of the 20th century was born April 20, 1908 in Louisville, Kentucky.

The son of Charles Hampton, a promising young pianist and singer who was reported missing and later declared killed in World War I. The tragedy forced the young Lionel and his mother Gertrude to join her family in Birmingham, Alabama. 

Lionel and his mother then later settled in Chicago and he was sent to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where he attended the Holy Rosary Academy for a short while. It was there that a Dominican nun give him his first drum lessons.
 
After moving back to Chicago, the future American musical treasure then attended St. Monica's School. It was there where he heard about the Chicago Defender's Newsboys Band. Lionel quickly complied with the criteria for joining the band and signed up for a job selling papers for the black owned news company who also sponsored the band. In the beginning, he helped carry the bass drum, and later played the snare drum. 


While still in high school, Lionel got a job in a teenage band with Les Hite. The 15-year-old Hampton, who had just graduated from high school, promised his grandmother he would continue to say his daily prayers and was off to a bright and promising future. Leaving for Los Angeles to join Reb Spikes's Sharps and Flats and Paul Howard's Quality Serenaders as well as a new band organized by Hite, which backed Louis Armstrong at the Cotton Club.



Over Night Blues

Courtesy by http://www.lionelhampton.nl/In 1930, Hampton was called in to a recording session with Armstrong, and during a break Hampton walked over to a vibraphone and started to play. He ended up playing the vibes on one song. The song became a hit; Hampton had introduced a new voice to jazz and he quickly became "King of the Vibes". 
 
Photo by Reuters (Handout)When Benny Goodman heard him play, Goodman immediately asked Hampton to record with him, Gene Krupa on drums and Teddy Wilson on piano. The Benny Goodman Quartet recorded the jazz classics "Dinah," "Moonglow," "My Last Affair," and "Exactly Like You." Hampton's addition to the group in 1936 also marked the breaking of the color barrier; the Benny Goodman Quartet was the first racially integrated group of jazz musicians.

He toured with the all-white Goodman orchestra during a time when it was not an acceptable practice to book integrated groups in American music venues. It was an era when black musicians were not welcome and it was difficult finding establishments that would accommodate them for lodging. However, through Goodman's insistance it was arranged that Hampton would travel with him.
 
Hampton's long time manager Phil Leshin remarked that Hampton later said, "I didn't recognize that it was a social advancement, but it was the first time blacks and whites ever played together out in public.".
 
Sources: Associated Booking Corporation publicity material - "Hamp: An Autobiography" by Lionel Hampton with James HaskinsHampton married his wife, Gladys on Nov. 11, 1936. Serving as his personal manager, Gladys developed a reputation as a brilliant businesswoman. It was she who was responsible for raising the funds to start the Lionel Hampton Orchestra.
 
The Lionel Hampton Orchestra became known around the world for its tremendous energy, dazzling showmanship and first-class jazz musicianship. "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 and the name Lionel Hampton became world famous overnight. The Lionel Hampton Orchestra had a phenomenal array of sidemen.


The frenetic jazz vibraphonist and mentor to countless musical careers. The orchestra also initiated the first phase of Hampton's career as an educator by showcasing and graduating the talents of future jazz giants that included the "Crown Prince of Bebop" Charlie Parker, music industry mogul, producer/arranger Quincy Jones, bassist Charlie Mingus, saxophonists Dexter Gordon and Illinois Jacquet, young trumpeter Fats Navarro, singers Lilly Mae Jones who became Betty Carter, Joe Williams and Ruth Jones from Chicago who was known worldwide as the "Queen of the Blues" Dinah Washington as well as Cat Anderson, Art Farmer, Clifford Brown, Clark Terry, Charles Mingus, Wes Montgomery and many others who became known around the world for first-class jazz musicianship. 
 
Hampton sustained a presence on the American stage that spanned a minimum of six-decades. Performing year round, the tremendously energetic vibraphonist was known not only for his phenominal energy, but also for directing bands that were among the most long-lived and popular large ensembles in jazz history. 
 
Writing more than 200 musical pieces and recording hundreds of records that included "Evil Gal Blues" and "Midnight Sun." His talent in the symphonic field is highly respected. He composed two major symphonic works, "King David Suite" and "Blues Suite" which are performed often by leading orchestras throughout the world. 
 
Touring internationally over the last 30 years playing jazz standards on the metal keys of the vibraphone with soft mallets producing vibrating tones and excitement among audiences, Hampton once said in an interview, that he estimated that he performed his award winning composition and signature tune "Flyin' Home," more than 300 times a year from 1937 to 1987. Hampton who was once a drummer, played the vibraphone with lightning speed and with a sense of simplistic harmony and melody coupled with a driving rhythm that was fierce and firery.

Sources: Associated Booking Corporation publicity material - "Hamp: An Autobiography" by Lionel Hampton with James HaskinsAs a statesman, he was asked by President Eisenhower to serve under the title of American Goodwill Ambassador for the United States. An honor also bestowed upon him by President Richard Nixon. His orchestra made many tours to Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and the Far East, generating a huge international following. President George Bush Sr. appointed him to the Board of the Kennedy Center
 
A long time member of the Republican Party, Hampton appeared at fund-raising and celebratory party events, but played the White House during Democratic administrations too. He performed throughout his stellar career, Hampton has played and performed for Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan and Bush. President Clinton awarded him the National Medal of the Arts and hailed him as "more than just a performer. He is a lion of American music. And he still makes the vibraphone sing.''

Over the years, the legendary Hampton has received other innumerable prestigious awards. Among them: The Papal Medal from Pope Paul I, Sixteen Honorary Doctorates, and in 1992 the highly esteemed Kennedy Center Honors Award, in which he shared the musical distinction with Mstislav Rostropovich.
 
As a businessman, the American music icon established two record labels, his own publishing company, and he founded the Lionel Hampton Development Corporation to build low-income housing in Harlem, NY (The Lionel & Gladys Hampton Houses on St. Nicholas Avenue) and other inner cities around the United States. Despite the rigorous demands of his exciting and very full calendar, Hampton continued to amaze those in the music business with the care and time he devoted to his many public service projects. He had a "dream" that he would aid in the creation of a university in Uptown (Harlem) New York "...where young Black kids can learn to be Doctors, Lawyers, IBM technicians, and, maybe even musicians..."
 
A street in Berlin, Hamptonstrasse, and a music school in Idaho at the University of Idaho have been named in his honor. In his continuing role as an educator, he began working with 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. Nearly 20 years later, the University of Idaho has developed an unprecedented relationship with Hampton by ensuring that his vision lives through the Lionel Hampton Center, a $60 million 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 the heritage of jazz.

The school is the first university music school to be named in honor of a jazz musician.
 
Former President George Bush says "Lionel was a dear friend of Barbara's and mine for over 40 years. Lionel Hampton was a national treasure. His career represents the very heart and soul of America's music, jazz. That heritage is something we as a nation need to preserve and cherish for generations to come. The Lionel Hampton Center at the University of Idaho will open doors of learning even further for jazz musicians and scholars of all ages..."
 
His lifetime of "swinging" is well documented through hundreds of recordings, many of which rank among the best in jazz, and all of which will be housed and studied inside the Lionel Hampton Center in Moscow, Idaho, slated to open in 2006


Tamm E Hunt


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