Jazz great buried with pomp

Procession through Harlem precedes Hampton's burial

Sunday, September 8, 2002

— The remains of jazz great Lionel Hampton were carried Saturday in a white horse-drawn hearse through the streets of Harlem, with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis blowing a dirge to lead the funeral procession.

Hampton, the 94-year-old showman and bandleader, died Aug. 31 of heart failure. He had suffered two strokes in 1995 and had been in failing health in recent years.


AP Photo

Vet Harris drives a horse-drawn hearse as he leads a funeral procession for jazz musician Lionel Hampton on New York's Upper West Side. Several hundred people joined Saturday in the New Orleans-style street procession with music by Wynton Marsalis and the Gully Low Jazz Band.

Starting from the Cotton Club, once an icon of great music, hundreds of mourners walked in a procession to a service at the nearby Riverside Church.

President George W. Bush sent a letter of condolence, which was read by his father.

"His legacy of music, education and civic dedication will continue to inspire generations to come," the former president said, quoting his son. A condolence letter from former President Bill Clinton also was read at the service.

The service was presided over by the Rev. James Forbes, pastor of the church, who called Hampton "this 20th-century marvel of a man."

The Rev. Calvin Butts, pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, also spoke at the service, calling Hampton "an inspiration. He lived a long time. God gave him energy to continue his music for as long as he lived."

Bush remembered meeting Hampton when the former president was director of the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1970s. At the time, Bush said, morale at the spy agency was low.

"He loaded his band on a bus, they came to CIA headquarters and performed to an overflow crowd," Bush recalled.

After the service, Hampton was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, near other greats of American music � Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Coleman Hawkins and Irving Berlin.

"Yes, I love this man," Bush told the congregation, his voice cracking with emotion as he spoke, with Hampton's coffin nearby. "This incredibly gifted musician had an incredible knack for friendship."

Through a six-decade career, Hampton played with a who's who of jazz, from Benny Goodman to Louis Armstrong to Charlie Parker to Quincy Jones. His own band helped foster or showcase other jazz greats including Charlie Mingus, Dexter Gordon, Fats Navarro, Joe Williams and Dinah Washington.

He performed at the White House for presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton. When he played for Truman, his was the first black band ever to entertain in the White House, Hampton once said. In 1997 he received the Presidential Medal of Honor.