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Lionel Hampton, His Legacy and the UI Jazz Festival

Updated: Apr 1, 2020

Lionel Hampton, His Legacy and the UI Jazz Festival

By: EmilieRae Smith

Every February, Moscow holds one of the oldest and largest jazz festivals in the world.[1] The tradition started in 1967 as a one day event and has grown to the four day experience we now know. The festival brings together students from elementary, junior high, high school and college with workshops, clinics, special exhibits and concerts. In 1981, the festival reached national status when Ella Fitzgerald performed. It was in 1984, however, that the festival really came into its own.

It was in 1984 that Lionel Hampton first performed in Moscow. He saw the enthusiasm the students had and pledged to support the festival.[2] In 1985, the University of Idaho renamed the jazz festival in his honor.

The “Jazz in the School” program began in 1995, which takes the visiting artists to elementary schools across northern Idaho and eastern Washington to introduce and teach students about jazz music.[3]Hampton continued to help out and show his support throughout the years. He attended sporting events and came to several more jazz festivals.

In earlier years, Lionel Hampton played in the racially integrated Benny Goodman Quartet throughout the 1930s. After that, he started the Lionel Hampton Orchestra in 1940.[4] From there he toured the world with his music and as a Goodwill ambassador. Him and his wife, Gladys, founded record labels, a music publishing business “and a company that built low-income housing in inner-cities.”[5] He was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1997 by President Clinton and appointed to the Board of the Kennedy Center in 1992 by President George H. W. Bush.[6] Hampton continued playing music until he passed away in 2002.

Hampton was not only an outstanding jazz musician who revolutionized the sound with the vibraphone, but he was also someone who cared deeply about humanity and education. In honor of Black History Month and the Jazz Festival being this past week, we celebrate all that Lionel Hampton has accomplished throughout his life and in Moscow. If you missed the chance to attend the festival this year, be sure to mark your calendars for next February.

If you’d like to see more pictures of Lionel Hampton at jazz festivals from previous years, please visit Latah County Historical Society and ask to see their collection in their photo archives.


[1]    “About Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival” University of Idaho website.

[2]    “About Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival” University of Idaho website.

[3]    “About Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival” University of Idaho website.

[4]    Lionel Hampton Bio

[5]    Lionel Hampton Bio

[6]    Lionel Hampton Bio

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