During that time no fewer than four strangers recognized him and vigorously shook his hand. But all had much the same thing to say. No other jazz figure—not even Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong—has come to mean so much to so wide a cross-section of the population as has this quiet-spoken, bespectacled jazz clarinetist. Benjamin David Goodman was born in Chicago, May 30, , ninth of twelve children of Russian-Jewish immigrant parents. His father, a tailor, worked hard; but it was clear from the outset that the Goodman siblings would have to learn quickly and well how to be self-sufficient in a tough, keenly competitive—and not always just—world. Young Benjamin received his first clarinet at age ten, and within four years he was playing it professionally around Chicago. Things moved fast thereafter. He played a hot style comparable to others of his time—Pee Wee Russell, Don Murray, and fellow-Chicagoan Frank Teschemacher among them—but there was a difference.
Who Was Benny Goodman?
Shortly after moving to New York City in the late s, Goodman quickly found work in the studio recording for Brunswick Records. Benny Goodman's Orchestra rose to popularity in , after a feature on Let's Dance , a respected NBC radio program focused on different types of dance music. A key to Goodman's success on the program was hiring the immensely talented and now-iconic arranger Fletcher Henderson, whose own band had disbanded in the midst of the Great Depression.
Benny Goodman was the first celebrated bandleader of the Swing Era, dubbed "The King of Swing," his popular emergence marking the beginning of the era. He was an accomplished clarinetist whose distinctive playing gave an identity both to his big band and to the smaller units he led simultaneously. The most popular figure of the first few years of the Swing Era, he continued to perform until his death 50 years later. He first began taking clarinet lessons at ten at a synagogue, after which he joined the band at Hull House, a settlement home. He made his professional debut at 12 and dropped out of high school at 14 to become a musician. At 16, in August , he joined the Ben Pollack band, with which he made his first released band recordings in December His first recordings under his own name were made in January At 20, in September , he left Pollack to settle in New York and work as a freelance musician, working at recording sessions, radio dates, and in the pit bands of Broadway musicals. These record successes and an offer to perform at Billy Rose 's Music Hall inspired Goodman to organize a permanent performing orchestra, which gave its first performance on June 1, During the six months he spent on the show, he scored another six Top Ten hits on Columbia, then switched to RCA Victor, for which he recorded five more Top Ten hits by the end of the year.
Benny Goodman, New York City, Photo: The Library of Congress. His passion was music and his big band sound quickened the pulse of a generation ready to shrug off the Depression and dance. Goodman led jazz into the commercial mainstream and brought with him an extraordinary group of gifted and original musicians. Band members Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton were some of the first to break the big band color barrier.