Lionel Hampton was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1908 and was raised by his mother in Birmingham. After a move to Chicago in 1916, he started playing drums in Major N. Clark Smith's Chicago Defender Newsboy's Band. Later, he worked with various Chicago bands including Detroit Shannon.
Lionel moved to California in 1927, worked with the Spikes Brothers, and then joined Paul Howard's Quality Serenaders, with whom he made his recording debut in 1929. He was a house musician at Sebastian's Cotton Club in Culver City and worked with Les Hite. In 1930, he recorded on vibes and drums with Louis Armstrong.
During this period, Hamp studied music at the University of Southern California. Then in 1934, he formed his own band, working in Oakland and Los Angeles and appearing in the film Depths Below. He also appeared as the masked drummer with Louis Armstrong in the film Pennies From Heaven. In 1936, his band was featured at the Paradise Cafe in Hollywood.
Hamp was a featured star with Benny Goodman's Quartet from 1936 through 1940 and occasionally played drums with the big band. He regularly led his own recording bands from 1937. In 1940, he moved back to Los Angeles and formed his own big band. From 1953 onward, he toured Europe, Japan, Australia, Africa, the Middle East, etc. Hamp appeared in the '50's film The Benny Goodman Story. In 1978, he was featured at President Jimmy Carter's White House Jazz Party. Lionel Hampton died in 2002 in New York City.