Jazz lovers have lost one of their true pioneering spirits.
Lionel Hampton, a vibraphone virtuoso, died Saturday of heart failure at the New York's Mount Sinai Medical Center. He was 94.
Over his six-decade career, Hampton, who infused his music with boundless energy and a trademark smile, played with a variety of jazz greats including Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker and Quincy Jones. In the 1930s, however, when Hampton joined the Benny Goodman Quartet, the "King of Vibes" made a name for himself as one of the first black men to break the race barrier that had kept black and white musicians from performing together in public.
Hampton went on to become an accomplished band leader in his own right, helping to foster other jazz musicians such as Charlie Mingus, Dexter Gordon, Fats Navarro, Joe Williams and Dinah Washington. He traveled the world with his band as a musical ambassador of the United States.
"He was really a towering jazz figure," saxophonist Sonny Rollins, who played with Hampton in the 1950s, told the Associated Press. "He really personified the spirit of jazz because he had so much joy about his playing."
AP reports Jones, the Grammy-winning producer and composer who was just 15 when he first played trumpet with Hampton, said in a statement that the jazz great was a mentor for more than 50 years.
"He taught me how to groove and how to laugh and how to hang and how to live like a man," Jones said. "Heaven will definitely be feeling some backbeat now."
Hampton had also performed at the White House for eight presidents, including Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton. Rep. Charlie Rangel, D-N.Y, told AP he remembers when Hampton played at the White House on his 90th birthday, inviting President Clinton to grab his saxophone and jam with them on stage.
"Lionel was a spectacular guy," said Rangel.
Married for 35 years, he lost his wife, Gladys, in 1971. The couple had no children. Funeral arrangements have yet to be announced.