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Lionel Hampton Dies

Lionel Hampton, the vibist who, according to The New York Times, “was legendary for not wanting to leave the stage,” died Sat., Aug. 30 at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan. He was 94.

Hampton started young in his hometown of Louisville, Ky. In grammar school he played drums in the Chicago Defender Newsboys’ Band and at 14 went on the road playing drums for Detroit Shannon. After moving west he played in Curtis Mosby’s Blue Blowers and made his recording debut with Paul Howard’s Quality Serenaders in 1929. While playing in Les Hite’s band, Hampton met Louis Armstrong and it was with Armstrong in 1930 that Hampton made his first recordings on the vibraphone backing up the trumpeter on “Memories of You” and “Shine.”

By 1936, Hampton had his own band, playing regularly at the Paradise Café, a hotspot where fate once again shone on him. Benny Goodman came in during a show in 1936 and Hampton’s playing blew the clarinetist’s socks off. It wasn’t long before Hampton was playing in Goodman’s Orchestra as a full-time soloist and even appearing in films with Goodman. Hampton was a member of Goodman’s band when they performed their famous 1938 Carnegie Hall concert.

Hampton remained with Goodman until 1940 and then left to form his own big band. In 1942 he hit it big with “Flying Home,” a song that helped make saxophonist Illinois Jacquet famous with one of the first R&B solos ever recorded. Over the years Hampton’s band featured the likes of Arnett Cobb, Dinah Washington, Dexter Gordon, Milt Buckner, Earl Bostic, Snooky Young, Johnny Griffin, Charles Mingus, Fats Navarro, Wes Montgomery, Betty Carter, Clifford Brown, Art Farmer, Quincy Jones, Jimmy Cleveland, Gigi Gryce, George Wallington, Annie Ross and many others—a who’s who list, as they say. Hampton also appeared in The Benny Goodman Story and in 1975 had a spot in Bette Midler’s Clams on the Half Shell Revue.

Hampton was also active in politics. He campaigned for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Sr. He also helped found the Gladys Hampton Houses, a low-income complex in Harlem named after his wife who died in 1971.

Hampton had no children and was the last of his immediate family to pass on.

Visitation will be held for Hampton on Fri., Sept. 6, from 12 noon to 8 p.m., at the Riverside Church, 490 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10027.

On Sat., Sept. 7, mourners will gather from 9 to 9:15 a.m. in front of the Apollo Theater, where Lionel’s casket will be placed on a casson, which will be pulled by 4 or 6 horses. The procession will begin immediately at 9:30 a.m.; the casson will be followed by musicians who will play, and walk on foot to the church, along with everyone who wants to walk with Lionel to the Riverside Church for the service, which will begin at 10 a.m. Additional seating to accommodate all is anticipated.

Originally Published