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Lionel Hampton, Musician

Louisville has a rich jazz history and is the birthplace of a main player on the national stage: the late “King of the Vibes” - Lionel Hampton.

“Hamp,” as he was affectionately called, was born in Louisville, on April 20, 1908. However, he grew up in Birmingham, Ala., and Chicago.

As a teenager he played drums … and set out to make his career in California after high school.

In 1930 during a recording session with Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton shone on the vibraphone, and a star was born.

He is credited with popularizing the vibes in jazz.

Later his joining forces with Benny Goodman helped break the color barrier in music; the Benny Goodman Quartet was the first racially integrated jazz group in the nation.

Hamp’s own band, the Lionel Hampton Orchestra, helped launch the careers of musical titans such as Quincy Jones and Aretha Franklin.

In his 60+-year career, Lionel Hampton wrote over 200 songs, founded two record labels, and graced stages around the world – including a 1998 appearance on KET’s In Performance at the Governor’s Mansion.

More than a musician, bandleader and entrepreneur, Hamp was also a statesman.

He served as a goodwill ambassador for the United States under President Eisenhower, was a Board Member of the Kennedy Center, and was awarded the National Medal of Arts.

Lionel Hampton died in 2002.

That same year he was honored with the inaugural Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame.

More on this jazz giant:

  • Lionel Hampton was also a pianist, vocalist and actor. He appeared in several films, including The Benny Goodman Story (1956).
  • Hamp was also a humanitarian. Through the Lionel Hampton Development Corporation, he helped fund low-income housing in Harlem, N.Y., and Newark, N.J. He was also a member of the New York City Human Rights Commission.
  • Throughout the years, Hamp worked with a Who’s Who of jazz greats, including Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker, Dinah Washington, Betty Carter, and Nat “King” Cole.
  • According to the Courier-Journal, Hamp rearranged his national tour in order to make a stop in his hometown in 1948. Some 3,000 people turned out to see him play at the Waitresses’ and Bartenders' Ball, sponsored by the Louisville Defender newspaper.
  • In 1968, Lionel Hampton received a Papal Medal from Pope Paul VI.
  • Both the University of Idaho’s Jazz Festival and BMI (of which Lionel Hampton was a member composer), President Clinton hosted a bash at the White House for Hamp’s 90th birthday.
  • In 2001, one of Hamp’s vibraphones was put into the National Museum of History. This appearance marked one of his final performances.
  • Footage of Lionel Hampton in action can be found all over the Web, on sites such as YouTube and Google.

Program 321
Louisville Life lets it ride at the French Lick Resort Casino, admires the adorable animals at a locally-owned pet shop, celebrates the zoo's 40th anniversary and remembers jazz great Lionel Hampton. (#321)