If a guy’s got it, let him give it. I’m selling music, not prejudice
Big band leader Benny Goodman rose from a desperately poor Chicago background to become one of the most successful jazz musicians of all time.
The son of parents who had emigrated to America from Eastern Europe, he grew up with 12 siblings in an area where you kept your head down to avoid street fights. His father didn’t earn much, but would take his children to enjoy free concerts at the local park and later enrolled them in music lessons.
A talented bandleader as well as a skilled clarinettist, Goodman succeeded in launching many other people’s careers including his own. Success soon followed, when he moved to New York, playing alongside other big band legends Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey.
It was an era when bands were playing jazz to rapt audiences and sounds pioneered by African American musicians. Yet in the 1930s, segregation prevented black and white musicians from performing publicly together. As a bandleader who became known as The King of Swing, Goodman crossed racial boundaries and formed the first racially integrated band.
Goodman’s musical success was such that he began appearing in films notably Make Mine Music and A Song Is Born in the late 1940s. A film, The Benny Goodman Story loosely based on his life starring Steve Allen and Donna Reed appeared in 1955.
A dedicated, committed and thoroughly talented musician, he packed out Carnegie Hall and led a bridge-building musical mission after the Cuban Missile Crisis, with a music tour in the USSR. He continued to perform right up until his death aged 77.
“People often say to me, you look so relaxed when you play,” he said.
“Relaxed, my elbow. It’s practice.”