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Episode #718 – R&B Influences: Lionel Hampton

Air Week: February 5-11, 2024

R&B Influences: Lionel Hampton

Lionel Hampton’s big band was a training ground for so many of the all-time great musicians: Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Dexter Gordon, Joe Morris, Dinah Washington, Wes Montgomery, Little Jimmy Scott and Clifford Brown. His musical education began on drums and piano while attending the Holy Rosary Academy, near Kenosha, Wisconsin, but it was his exploration of the xylophone that would prove the most fruitful. For when Hamp jumped from the xylophone to the vibraphone, the course of modern jazz was forever enriched. He became the first to use the vibes on a jazz record with Louis Armstrong in 1930, thus paving the way for future vibe virtuosos: Johnny Otis, Milt Jackson and Bobby Hutcherson. Benny Goodman selected Hampton to join his Goodman Trio, making it an interracial quartet, which was ground-breaking in 1936. Hamp and pianist Teddy Wilson helped break the color barrier in popular music. Forming his own big band in 1940, with the help of his business partner and wife, Gladys Hampton, Hamp would score a hugely influential hit in ’42 with “Flying Home,” featuring the honking sax of Illinois Jacquet. That record would open the door to the R&B sax honkers of the Rock n’ Roll era and would forever be Hamp’s theme song. His biggest hit came in early 1946 when “Hey! Ba Ba Re Bop” topped the Harlem Hit Parade for 16 solid weeks! He followed that up with the #5 smash, “Blow Top Blues,” featuring Dinah Washington on vocals. Beyond the hits and musical influence, Lionel Hampton was a humanitarian and supported many charities that brought low income housing projects to Harlem and elsewhere. President Bill Clinton awarded him the National Medal of Arts in 1996 and the University of Idaho named their annual jazz festival after him. There is a lot to be said about the hugely influential Lionel Hampton and this week, Matt The Cat does his best to present a full picture of this renaissance man. So grab some nickels and some jive and meet us at the “Juke In The Back.” 

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