The Academy was recently honored to receive a very special donation of a jazz vibraphone (“vibes”) set. The instrument belonged to late local Jazz musician and DC native Charlie Barden. His surviving family members’ thoughtful gift, which will be used in the Mason School of Music Jazz department, pays homage to his musical legacy.
Charlie Barden lived a vibrant life as a musician, composer/ arranger, visual artist, Navy medical technician, businessman, and family man. Through the years, Mr. Barden performed many gigs throughout the DC area, often headlining with the Charlie Barden Trio. He also performed with groups that included Danny Gatton, Allen Houser, Steve Jordan, Mort Langstaff, Van Perry, Robert Redd, Bob Southee, Brooks Tegler, and Paul Wingo. He was also a recording artist, appearing on or creating several CDs.
One of Mr. Barden’s daughters, Kate Sampogna (pictured above), contacted the Academy with the donation offer and provided a very detailed description of the instrument along with loving words about her father: “It is a full-sized Leedy Vibraharp from 1935, nearly all original . They are the exact same model that Lionel Hampton was using when he joined Benny Goodman’s band in the mid to late 1930’s. The bars on the vibes are original and intact, and this is crucial, because they are the original aluminum bars, and thus the tone is “period-correct” for the late 30’s Benny Goodman/Charlie Christian sound. You can’t get this sound from modern vibes as the modern bars are made of different materials.”
Mason School of Music Jazz Professor James Carroll (pictured above) was extremely grateful for the donation. Coordinating with Academy staff, he arranged for the placement of the instrument in the School, specifically to be used in study and performance by Jazz students at the university. “This is all about musical legacy,” commented Professor Carroll. “What a special gift!”
Although bittersweet, the Barden family finds great solace knowing that their father’s musical legacy will live on, as emerging jazz musicians practice and perform on this instrument for many years to come.
Pictured above: vibraphone set plus artwork by Charlie Barden
Mr. Barden’s surviving adult children were kind enough to share some of their fondest memories of their dad and growing up in a musical family:
- “When he used to play New Year’s Eve parties and bring us home the party hats when we were kids.”
- “Dad and Mom pushing the vibes up Massachusetts Avenue to the Historic Trust Building where Dad had a gig. The only parking they could find was several blocks away, so they put together the vibe pieces by the parked car and then pushed the vibes to the Trust.”
- “Dad being introduced to Danny Gatton through our brother Joe and ending up as one of the musicians on one of Danny’s albums.”
- “Dad playing with a group at Blues Alley.”
- “Dad putting together a group and providing the music for many museum exhibit opening receptions at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History.”
- “Dad gathered some of his music friends and played my wedding reception.”
- “In his mid 80’s, Dad deciding to compose some original pieces and then cut a CD of them at a recording studio in Alexandria–this provided the music on the website.” (see below)
To learn more about Charlie Barden’s life, legacy and music, you can visit his former website at
The Academy would like to express a heartfelt thank you to Mr. Barden’s family for their gift. As with all donations to our Instruments in the Attic program, we are committed to placing lovingly used musical instruments into the hands of music students in need and recycling the love of music.