Benny Goodman

Benny Goodman
Benny Goodman 1942.jpg
Goodman in 1942
Background information
Birth nameBenjamin David Goodman
Born(1909-05-30)May 30, 1909
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
DiedJune 13, 1986(1986-06-13) (aged 77)
New York City, U.S.
  • Musician
  • bandleader
  • songwriter
Years active1926–1986

Benjamin David Goodman (May 30, 1909 – June 13, 1986) was an American jazz clarinetist and bandleader known as the "King of Swing".[1]

In the mid-1930s, Goodman led one of the most popular musical groups in the United States. His concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City on January 16, 1938 is described by critic Bruce Eder as "the single most important jazz or popular music concert in history: jazz's 'coming out' party to the world of 'respectable' music."[2]

Goodman's bands started the careers of many jazz musicians. During an era of racial segregation, he led one of the first integrated jazz groups. He performed nearly to the end of his life while exploring an interest in classical music.

Early years

"Playing music was a great escape for me from the poverty."

Goodman, in a 1975 interview[3]

Goodman was the ninth of twelve children born to poor Jewish emigrants from the Russian Empire. His father, David Goodman (1873–1926), came to America in 1892 from Warsaw in partitioned Poland and became a tailor.[1] His mother, Dora Grisinsky,[1] (1873–1964), came from Kovno. They met in Baltimore, Maryland, and moved to Chicago before Goodman's birth. With little income and a large family, they moved to the Maxwell Street neighborhood, an overcrowded slum near railroad yards and factories that was populated by German, Irish, Italian, Polish, Scandinavian, and Jewish immigrants.[3]

Money was a constant problem. On Sundays, his father took the children to free band concerts in Douglas Park, which was the first time Goodman experienced live professional performances. To give his children some skills and an appreciation for music, his father enrolled ten-year-old Goodman and two of his brothers in music lessons at the Kehelah Jacob Synagogue. During the next year Goodman joined the boys club band at Hull House, where he received lessons from director James Sylvester. By joining the band, he was entitled to spend two weeks at a summer camp near Chicago. It was the only time he could get away from his bleak neighborhood.[3]

He received two years of instruction from classically trained clarinetist Franz Schoepp.[4] He attended the Lewis Institute (Illinois Institute of Technology) in 1924 as a high-school sophomore and played clarinet in a dance hall band.

When he was 17, his father was killed by a passing car after stepping off a streetcar.[5] His father's death was "the saddest thing that ever happened in our family", Goodman said.[3]:42

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