An extraordinary vibraphone player who was also the composer of over 200 innovative musical compositions that would eventually become jazz standards, Lionel Hampton was also a critical factor in bridging the racial divide in music by teaming with drummer Gene Krupa and pianist Teddy Wilson in the 1930s to form the multiracial Benny Goodman Quartet. In addition to his own work, Hampton would inspire such influential figures as Quincy Jones and Charles Mingus. The perfectionist jazz legend was born in Louisville, KY, in April 1908 and began hitting the skins in a fife-and-drum band at an early age. After hitting the road with bandleader Detroit Shannon at age 14, Hampton spotted a vibraphone during a recording session with Louis Armstrong and, on a lark, told the legendary trumpet player that he was well-versed on the instrument.
Hampton would portray himself in numerous films from 1936 to 2001 in addition to composing the scores for such films as Memphis Belle (1990) and Malcolm X (1992). A philanthropist in the later years of his life (putting his money forth to fund low-income housing and music scholarships as well as serving on the New York Human Rights Commission), Hampton also played for such presidents as Harry S. Truman in addition to being appointed Ambassador of Music to the United Nations in 1985. Two years after suffering a stroke in March 1995, Hampton was honored as a recipient of the National Medal of the Arts. On September 1, 2002, Lionel Hampton died of heart failure in New York City. He was 94.