Lionel Hampton (1908–2002) was a jazz vibraphonist, drummer, pianist, composer, and band leader known for the rhythmic vitality of his playing and his showmanship as a performer.
“Hamp” was raised in the Midwest, primarily in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where he received his first music job as a drummer in a newsboys’ band sponsored by the Chicago Defender. In 1928, Hampton moved west to California where he quickly established himself as the vibraphonist in Les Hite’s band led by Louis Armstrong. He made his recording debut on an Armstrong version of “Memories of You” in 1930, and the song became a hit. Hampton had introduced a new voice to jazz and soon became “King of the Vibes.”
Hampton eventually joined Benny Goodman’s band in 1936 and remained with the group until establishing his own big band in 1940. Hamp’s popular big band featured renowned musicians Dexter Gordon, Clifford Brown, Fats Navarro, Dinah Washington, Betty Carter, Aretha Franklin, and many more. He toured the globe and continued to nurture young talent, often providing some of the earliest band experience to musicians who went on to become leaders in their own right.
Motivated by his lifelong commitment to music education, Hampton took interest in the University of Idaho Jazz Festival. In 1985, the festival took on Hampton’s name and began an unprecedented relationship that spanned the next 20 years. Hampton and his band returned to the festival through the years to perform and teach and worked closely with the university to ensure his vision lived on through the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, the School of Music, and the International Jazz Collections.
The 2021 Virtual Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival will be bringing Hamp back to the main stage by featuring archival footage of some of his greatest festival performances. Concert viewers will no doubt witness Hamp’s love for jazz that has inspired generations of young artists and will continue to do so for years to come.
Find out more by visiting the University of Idaho's Lionel Hampton Collection.