Two eras came to an end over the Labor Day weekend, and, by coincidence, they were related to each other. Firstly, when Lionel Hampton died at age 94, it marked a finality to the swing-era generation. Benny Goodman was the King of Swing, and Hampton was the last surviving member of the landmark Goodman quartet that not only set new standards in jazz but also integrated the pop music industry.

Secondly, when Contact ended its run at Lincoln Center that same weekend, it put a stamp of finality on a strange and rare occurrence in Broadway history. A certain song had been performed in three different Broadway shows simultaneously -- the only time this ever happened. The song was "Sing, Sing, Sing," which appeared in Contact, in the musical Swing and as the finale to Fosse at the same time.

I had the pleasure of interviewing two of the Goodman quartet's stars, Goodman and Gene Krupa, for public radio when I was very young. Hampton I knew in a more casual way. He used to spend a lot of time hanging out at radio station WIP in Philadelphia, coming down there from New York to get away from distractions.  At the time, I worked as record librarian at WIP while I attended college, and Hampton and I would eat corned beef sandwiches at the deli across the street from the radio station. Patrons came and went, walked right by our table and never noticed this giant of jazz.

Fosse played at the Broadhurst Theatre from January 19, 1999, til August 25, 2001. Swing played the St. James from December 9, 1999, til January 14, 2001. Contact opened at Lincoln Center's Mitzi Newhouse Theater on October 7, 1999 and transferred to the larger Vivian Beaumont stage in March 2000. It closed September 1, 2002.

"Sing, Sing, Sing," of course, was made famous by the Benny Goodman band. In Contact, it was actually an old Goodman recording which audiences heard night after night. To be historically precise, Hampton did not perform on the recording. He didn't sit in with the big band. Rather, Goodman featured him in the quartet which played individual numbers during the band's appearances at dance halls, in theaters and at Carnegie Hall. But Hampton had been on stage during hundreds of performances of that swing classic. He was the last of the Goodman stars to check out, and it's fitting that his exit was the same weekend that "Sing, Sing, Sing" was played for the last time on the Great White Way.

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Key Subjects: 
Lionel Hampton, radio, swing
Writer: 
Steve Cohen
Writer Bio: 
Steve Cohen has written numerous pieces for This Month ON STAGE magazine and Totaltheater.com.
Date: 
August 2002
Subtitle: 
Labor Day Bids Farewell to a Tune and a Talent