Hampton, Lionel

Alternative names
Birth 1908-04-20
Death 2002-08-31

Biographical notes:

Lionel Hampton was born in Louisville, Kentucky on April 20, 1908. He died on August 31, 2002 in New York City. He showed a talent for music at an early age and by high school, was playing drums with a jazz band organized by his employer, a newspaper called the Chicago Defender. Later, he attended classes in music theory at the University of Southern California and gained a reputation as a great drummer on the West Coast. In 1930, Louis Armstrong, when working for Les Hite’s band, asked Hampton to fill in at an engagement at Sebastian’s Cotton Club in Los Angeles. Then, while at a recording session, Hampton discovered a vibraharp in an adjoining room and began experimenting with the instrument. He would later become recognized as the “King of Vibes.”

In 1936, Benny Goodman invited him to join his newly formed quartet and this relationship lasted for four years until Hampton decided to strike out on his own, forming the Lionel Hampton Orchestra in New York City in 1940. After the demise of the big band sound in the 1960s, Hampton changed the size and structure of his band and called it "The Inner Circle." His professional presence in the music industry helped hit a new milestone as blacks and whites began to integrate the scene, breaking barriers that had existed before that time. In 1936, Hampton married Gladys Riddle who became his business manager, running all aspects of the enterprise until her death in 1971.

Besides touring worldwide and playing engagements at home, Hampton developed a working relationship with the University of Idaho in 1984 and the annual jazz festival became a huge success. The university honored Hampton in 1987 by dedicating its school of music as the “Lionel Hampton School of Music.” The festival continued to grow with jazz artists from around the world participating. Hampton remained active in the festival until his death in 2002.

For further information on Hampton’s life, see Hamp: An Autobiography by Lionel Hampton and James Haskins, Warner Books, 1989.

From the guide to the Lionel Hampton Papers, circa 1918-2002, 1940-1990, (University of Idaho Library Special Collections and Archives)


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  • African Americans
  • Sound Recordings
  • Jazz--History--20th century--Sources
  • Artifacts
  • Jazz musicians--Archives
  • Photographs
  • Music
  • African American jazz musicians--Archives


  • Jazz musicians


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