Johnny Hamp became a bandleader by opportunity. A big music fan, Hamp spent a lot of time at dances and ballrooms. One night while at the Hershey Ballroom in Hershey, Pennsylvania, he overhead an argument between that evening's band, the Kentucky Serenaders, and its leader. The leader walked out on the group and Hamp, a pudgy, nervous, and aggressive man, volunteered to lead the band for the rest of the evening. When the night was over the group asked him to become their new leader. Hamp readily accepted.
By 1919 the group had established itself in New York. The Serenaders went on to become one of the more successful jazz groups of the 1920s. Their biggest hit was ''Black Bottom'' in 1926, which started a nationwide dance craze. They recorded on the Victor label.
In 1931 Hamp changed the name of the group to Johnny Hamp and His Orchestra. This later edition lacked the spark of the Serenaders' earlier work, though it did introduce two fine vocalist, Johnny McAfee and Jayne Whitney. Other Hamp vocalists included Chick Bullock, Jack Campbell, Millicent Hope, and Charles Socci. The orchestra recorded for the Victor, Bluebird, ARC and Timely Tunes labels. The band's last recordings were in 1937. It spent its later years as the house band for a Chicago hotel.