Kemp, Hal (actually, James Harold)

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Kemp, Hal (actually, James Harold)

Kemp, Hal (actually, James Harold), jazz pop clarinetist, alto saxophonist, leader; b. Marion, Ala., March 27, 1905; d. Dec 21, 1940. He began playing piano, originally taught by his sister. During his early teens, he played in a movie theatre in Marion, then moved with his family to Charlotte, N.C. (1917). He played clarinet, led his own band (the Merry Makers) while at Alexander Graham H.S. He took up alto sax while studying at the Univ. of N.C, joined and eventually led the Carolina Club Orch,, composed of students from the university. He traveled with this band to London during the summer of 1924 for a residency at the Piccadilly Hotel. He returned to univ., during 1925, led another band, Hal Kemp and the Boys from the Hill, and returned again to univ. to graduate in the summer of 1926. The following year he launched his professional career, appearing at the N.Y. Strand Hoof in January 1927. He toured several states, had a long residency in Miami before visiting Europe from May until August 1930. During these early years Hal Kemp’s Band also made many records using the name the Carolina Club Orch. Throughout the 1930s Kemp continued to lead his own commercially successful big band until his untimely death; he died of pneumonia after being very seriously injured in a car crash.

Kemp was among the most popular and commercially successful bandleaders of the 1930s, scoring a huge number of dance hits. Kemp’s band was famous for a sentimental, “sweet” but substantial style; his arranger John Trotter did some innovative things for the era with instrumentation and contrast of brass and horn section parts. Lead vocalist Bob Allen was also an audience favorite on ballads. After Trotter left to join Bing Crosby, Art Mooney became the arranger, and the band continued to sparkle. They were boosted by assistance from a vocal trio called the Smoothies, and from appearances on radio and in film. Their last hit was a novelty-song version of “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover.”


Got a Date with an Angel (1992).

—John Chilton, Who‘s Who of Jazz/Lewis Porter

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Kemp, Hal (actually, James Harold)

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