Special Collections and Archives
researched by Music Librarian Christopher Popa
In January 1997, there was a fire in Lionel Hampton's apartment in Manhattan, caused by a halogen lamp which tipped over.
"Oh God, that was awful," his manager, Phil Leshin, sighed to me. "Everything went up in that: old contracts, photographs, gold records, a piano, his original set of drums, a set of vibes, clothes, everything. Everything that he owned in the world went up in that fire. And he almost went up in it, too . . . And his housekeeper was the one who said, 'Let's get out of here.' And Lionel said, 'Wait a minute. I want to go back into my bedroom.' And that's where the fire was! And she said, 'No, you're not, Mr. Hampton. Here.' and she threw a coat on him, and took him downstairs. And they got down in one of the last elevators in the building."
The lamp company tried to blame Hampton, but he eventually prevailed.
"Not for the amount of money we thought we'd get," Leshin pointed out. "I think Lionel wound up with about $100,000, for losing everything. I mean, that was the net. We had lawyers... we had Johnnie Cochran, we had two other lawyers, and we faced a whole battery of lawyers from the lamp company."
Despite this incredible calamity, it didn't change Hampton's famous enthusiasm for performing.
"Absolutely not, absolutely not," Leshin reported. "I had to hold him down, mostly."
Other memorabilia, such as the program from a performance by Hampton at Wrigley Field in Chicago on July 10, 1949 shown below, is in the hands of private collectors.
Leshin, Phil. Interview with author, Jan. 26, 2005.