Jazz giant Lionel Hampton dies. The bandleader who brought the vibes to jazz and helped racially integrate the music was 94

By Gary Susman
Updated September 03, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT

Lionel Hampton, who changed the face of jazz in the 1930s and ’40s and remained a popular bandleader for the next 60 years, died Saturday at age 94 at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. He suffered from complications of old age and a recent heart attack, his manager, Phil Leshin said. One of the last living links to the era of big-band swing, Hampton was credited with popularizing the vibraphone as a jazz instrument and integrating the music by performing on stage and record with the Benny Goodman Quartet.

Hampton helped introduce the vibraphone, an electric, xylophone-like instrument, to jazz in 1930 in a solo on Louis Armstrong’s ”Memories of You.” In 1936, he joined the quartet led by swing’s reigning bandleader, the clarinetist Benny Goodman, and including drummer Gene Krupa and pianist Teddy Wilson. Though it was common then for white musicians like Goodman and Krupa to jam after hours with black players like Hampton and Wilson, it was groundbreaking for them to appear together on stage.

In the 1940s, Hampton became the leader of his own band, composing such hits as ”Flying Home,” whose pounding rhythm and honking tenor saxophone solo by Illinois Jacquet influenced rock-and-rollers yet to come. A crowd-pleasing entertainer, he played for presidents and audiences worldwide over the next six decades. He gave early career boosts to numerous players and singers, including Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Betty Carter, Clifford Brown, Charles Mingus, Wes Montgomery, Dexter Gordon, Quincy Jones, and Terence Blanchard. A lifelong Republican, Hampton was also known for his philanthropy, having helped to build such housing projects as the Gladys Hampton Houses in Harlem, named for his late wife.

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