What better way to begin this series than with one of my all-time favourite jazz musicians:
King of the Vibes, aka Hamp, aka ……. Lionel Hampton!
Hamp was not only king of the vibes, he was master of many instruments and had an extensive knowledge of music. He attributed this to his time in the Chicago Defender Newsboys’ Band. “I got my music training from the Defender. [...] The paper had a newsboys band when I was a kid growing up in Chicago, and if I know anything about music, I learned it because of the Defender.”
Hampton recalls hearing the sounds of band music emanating from opera star Mme. Ernestine Schumann-Heink’s house every day on his way home from school. “I was so anxious to join that band that I got a job selling newspapers right away.”
Robert Sengstacke Abbott, founder of the Defender, hired Major N. Clark Smith–a strict disciplinarian–to form a band for the newsboys and teach them music. They used Schumann-Heink’s large house for band practice. Hamp remembered, “[Major Clark Smith] was a hard taskmaster, but we learned music. If you wanted to play under his direction, you had to learn harmony and sight reading before you’d even get your instrument. We studied every day after school. The major wouldn’t put up with loafers.”
Thanks to the Defender and Major N. Clark Smith, a young newsboy went on to create a remarkable jazz legacy. No word on Hamp’s newspaper sales though.