Friday, April 25, 2008

Hamp@Hoole: Happy 100th Birthday to the Legendary Lionel Hampton

Lionel Hampton would have been 100 years old this week. He passed away in August of 2002 at the age of 94, a musical legend and performer for a remarkable eight decades.

Hampton was born on April 20, 1908 in Louisville, Kentucky. After his father was killed in World War I, Hampton and his mother moved to Birmingham, Alabama. They later moved north to Kenosha, Wisconsin, then to Chicago. His earliest musical experiences were in Birmingham, playing drums in a Holiness church. He started his professional musical career as a drummer, touring with bandleaders in the 1920s, then moving to Los Angeles in 1927.

Everything changed for Hampton in 1930, when during a recording session with Louis Armstrong. It was in this session that Hampton would first play the vibraphone -- the instrument he made legendary. When Armstrong asked him if he knew how to play, he said "yeah, I can play that" (based on his experience with a xylophone), and he recorded "Memories of You" on vibes with Armstrong.

Hampton went on to play in the 1930s with the Benny Goodman Orchestra, and soon after was recording under his own name for RCA Victor -- recording sessions with musicians like Dizzie Gillespie. In 1940 he assembled his own big band, with members including such legends as Dexter Gordon, Charles Mingus, and the legendary singer and Tuscaloosa, Alabama native, Dinah Washington. Though he is most widely known as a vibraphonist, he is often remembered for his wild drum performances. Most performances included him working the drums, vibes, singing, and playing piano.

Hampton's legend lives on as a dynamic band leader and vibraphonist -- and it is he that was responsible for making the vibraphone what it is today. And his passion for music and life is reflected in the legacy he left behind both in recordings, and in his good works in politics and in the community.

The W.S. Hoole Library's sound recordings include several by Lionel Hampton from the Wade Hall Sound Recordings. Images from a few of the albums are featured here.

Here's an early television recording of Hampton and his orchestra with his hit, "Flying Home".

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