December 29th, 2000
Benny Goodman
About Benny Goodman

His passion was music and his big band sound quickened the pulse of a generation ready to shrug off the Depression and dance. With clarinet in hand, Benny Goodman was transformed from a child in Chicago’s impoverished Jewish ghetto into the king of swing, greeted with near pandemonium wherever his band played. 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. Held together by the force of Goodman’s personality and a willingness to put their music above all else, the Benny Goodman Band created a kingdom of swing with enthusiastic fans from coast to coast.

It could have been a far different life, had destiny not intervened. Struggling to raise a family of eleven on sweatshop wages, Benny Goodman’s father believed music might be a ticket out of poverty for his eldest sons. He enrolled them in free music classes at a local synagogue when Benny was just ten. His older brothers were given a tuba and a trombone, but Benny, the smallest, got a clarinet. From the outset, he was a prodigy of unmistakable talent. As a youth, he had frequented the jazz halls on the south side of Chicago, soaking in some of the greatest musicianship in the world. By the time he was fifteen, Goodman had dropped out of school and already established himself as a professional musician. It was then that the Ben Pollack Orchestra asked him to move to California and join the band.

Goodman spent the late 1920s and early 1930s traveling the country playing in bands led by Red Nichols, Ben Selvin, and many others. In 1934, he got his first big break. Putting together his own band for a local venue that was prematurely shut down, Goodman found a spot headlining on a new NBC radio program called LET’S DANCE. Broadcast live from New York from 10:30 in the evening to 4:30 in the morning, the west coast was just tuning in as Goodman’s band let loose in the wee hours. These regular performances created a nationwide audience for his big band sound, and it was this audience that would eventually go wild for the Benny Goodman Band in live performances at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, the Congress Hotel in Chicago, and the Paramount Theater in New York. His musical achievement reached its pinnacle in 1938, when his band blew the lid off of Carnegie Hall (the live recording of which was to become one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time).

By the 1940s, the sound of swing, which had been an all-pervasive part of American culture, began to fade as many musicians began experimenting with new jazz forms. With the rise in popularity of beebop, came the virtual eclipse of big band and swing. Though no longer in as great demand, Benny Goodman continued to play the clarinet, forming and fronting big bands. As an exceptionally dedicated musician and bandleader, Goodman was a major force in the popularity of swing, making a home for dozens of great musicians, including Fletcher Henderson, Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton, Mel Powell, Peggy Lee, Wardell Grey, and Stan Getz. In his later years, he turned to classical music, and in June of 1986 he died while playing the clarinet (a Brahms sonata) in his New York home. To this day, Goodman’s music continues to find its audience among the young and old alike.

  • lavanna christopher

    this isn’t a time line and it doesn’t help at all!!!!!!!!

  • joe gelman

    looking for all the band names that performed with
    benny goodmans band at CARNEGIE HALL IN 1938
    THANKS

  • paul

    my uncle is trying to find his relatives his father is kalvin goodman related to benny goodman my nan told derek that his father was not the man he beleaved that was kalvin goodman was based in birmingham when world war 2 was about kalvins comanding officer told my nan do you now how kalvin is related to,nan says no,benny goodman the band player..my uncle has a book on the goodmans he looks like eugene goodman 100percent looks like him other people say the same to anyway i would be greatful for any help or right path to follow…thanks from paul woodward..

  • PAUL

    I AM LOOKING FOR FAMILY MEMBERS OF BENNY GOODMAN MY UNCLES FATHER IS KALVIN GOODMAN BENNY GOODMAN WAS IS UNCLE I HAVE BEEN TRYING TO EMAIL FAMILY MEMBERS WITH NO JOY MY UNCLE WAS TOLD THAT IS FATHER WAS NOT HIS FATHER CAME AS A BIG BLOW MY NAN MEET KALVIN IN BIRMINGHAM WHEN WORLD WAR 2 WAS ABOUT KALVINS COMMANDING OFFICER SAID TO MY NAN DO YOU NOW HOW HE IS RELATED TO MY NAN ANSWERS NO BENNY GOODMAN TTHE BAND PLAYER ETC TEC MY UNCLE LOOKS SO MUCH LIKE EUGENE GOODMAN IF ANY ONE CAN HELP MESSAGE ME AND I WILL GIVE PHONE NUMBER OUT TO GET INFO OFF MY UNCLE THANKYOU….PAUL….

  • bobbye Miller

    Robert (Bob) Gibson played with the Benny Goodman band. He is my uncle, does anyone know how I can find a listing of band memers and the years they were in the band? You can reply at Bobbyemiller1@verizon.net

  • Respectful

    How very sad that he died while playing his instrument. At least he went happily to say in the least. Thank you for this article; it was very enlightening.

  • music history hater

    benny goodman is really boring to learn about. i hate this music class it is so boring. i dont get how anyone can want to learn about this stuff and actually cares. i think i fell asleep 5 times in his class. my teacher is really boring. and he fell asleep in class to so that shows how boring this stuff really is. i am sorry for all those other people that have to learn about this same boring crap.

  • Colin Hall

    Message for Joe Gelman: I have scanned the cover of my Carnegie Hall albums and they are listed on my blog at http://blogmejazz.blogspot.com/search?q=benny+goodman+Carnegie+Hall , You might also want to check out the 37-38 performance recordings as well – classic stuff. http://blogmejazz.blogspot.com/search?q=BENNY+GOODMAN+-+Performance+Recordings .

  • Spredgy

    My grandfather played with Benny Goodman’s band and I’m trying to find documentation. Does anybody know where I might start to look?

  • Terry Brien

    I am surprised at how few of the top artist of the peak of the swing age are even listed here. Great for Benny Goodman but wheres Tommy Dorsey, Lois Armstrong,, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Woody Herman, Harry James, Count Basie, Stan Kenton, Ella Fitzgeald, Chick Webb, Les Brown, Jack Teagarten, Duke Ellington, Earl Hines, Jimmy Dorsey, and so any More. Where are they. Not Even Listed – who made this list – Not Too Bright!!!

    I’m a Music lover,and of the 60’s. Boy I would feel really weird if a list of musical artists from my age, left off The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan , The Beach Boys, Led Zeplin, The Supremes, The Coasters, Janis Joplin,The Animals, Creme, The Byrds, Creedence Clearwater, The Doors, Guess Who, Jefferson Airplane, Iron Butterfly Procol Harrum, Pink Floyd, Moody Blues, and Joe Cocker…But Left in The Monkees and The Electric Prunes!!!!

    And as for “Music History Hater” 2 coments above – He just doesnt get it and obviosly doesnt have the class to care. Its RIFF Music Man – It riffs and swings and the saxes are interplaying with the trumpets and 18 people are putting together a form which you really are missing out on. Maybe go listen to the Electric Prunes and find yourself, but dont waste our time

  • Hilary Caryl

    The Troubadours was a mess. What was it about? Singer-songwritiers? California? Doug Weston and The Troubadour? Balancing life on the road and motherhood? It tried to do too much and missed making important points. “Tapestry” was a monstrous hit and changed everything. It shocked the record business. What made it so popular was, of course, the great songs but also Carole King’s performance: her sincerity, lack of attitude, and most important, a clearly untrained, less than perfect singing voice. It was so earnest, heartfelt and by a woman!! Speaking of women, to gloss over Joni Mitchell was a travesty. She was the queen of Laurel Canyon and just about everyone worshipped her artistry. Even the montage of Time magazine covers of singer-songwriters omitted hers. I bet I know why. She didn’t want anything to do with this documentary. Good for her! One other major failure was the most cursory discussion of where these artists sprang from. Thank god for Jackson Browne for talking about Bob Dylan. American Masters, you can do better.

  • Bill Deal

    I bought a very old tenor saxaphone a couple weeks ago and the lady told me that her husbands grandfather used to play sax for Benny Goodman for years.. I just talked to her and she told me his name was Clinton Evans and that he passed away 3 or 4 years ago at the age of 96.. Anybody know of this man, and what years he may have played with the band

  • davew

    Just read the comment by ‘Music History Hater’ and have to wonder why this person would even take a music history class, since he/she obviously does not appreciate some of the greatest American music ever written. Clearly this person does not comprehend the difficulty of mastering an instrument like the clarinet [probably a kid who thinks playing two chords on a bass guitar is music], or any other instrument for that matter. Obviously if the teacher doesn’t care and cannot grasp the quality of what he’s using as illustrations of American music, he shouldn’t be allowed to teach this class. I’m glad to have had music history teachers who truly appreciated all types of music and grasped the importance of jazz, the only truly original American art form, to the world. Maybe if someone told this kid how this kind of music evolved from black slavery roots into a unique musical form copied throughout the world, he’d wake up and start listening…

Inside This Episode

  • About Benny Goodman

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