Benny Goodman, or the King of Swing as he was known by friends and musicians and alike, was one of the most important musicians and band leaders in the history of jazz and swing music. Making his professional debut in 1921 at the age of 12 and then preforming with the jazz great Bix Beiderbecke at the age of 14, Benny made a name for himself very quickly and at an extremely young age. At 16, he decided to join one of the biggest and best known jazz orchestras out of Chicago, the Ben Pollack Orchestra.
From here, Goodman’s career took off; in 1928 he found himself along other jazz/swing icons Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Joe Venuti during a Victor Records recording session. Despite losing his father earlier on in his professional playing days, the career of Benny Goodman was on the up and up. The period in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s was a time of change and experimentation with jazz; the time would prove to be an extremely interesting and unique time in the history of music as genres start to be blurred, and new musical lines created.In the mid 1930’s, Goodman was on the verge of discovering a completely new genre of music which would be later called swing. In the summer of 1935 kids would start dancing and raving to the sounds of Goodman and his Orchestra playing the ‘King Porter Stomp’ which received high reviews from many popular music publications at the time. On the evening of August 21,1935 Benny Goodman and his orchestra would begin a residency for 3 weeks at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, California. Many guest musicians from other popular jazz bands at the time would come and join Goodman on stage during the 3 weeks he was at the Palomar ballroom creating an electric feeling in the air and a sense that modern music was about to change. All of the fervor and excitement came to a head on this balmy Los Angeles August evening as music historians credit Goodman’s residency as the birth of Swing music.
By November 1935, swing music was sweeping across the country by radio and in November of that year Goodman would return to Chicago to play an extended 6 moth residency at The Congress Hotel where all of his performances were to be broadcast by radio across the country. There was one thing that was becoming clear; swing music was in demand across the United States. Benny Goodman’s 1937 Carnegie Hall concert performance has long been regarded as the turning point for the nation with jazz music as it was now regarded as popular and Goodman is credited with helping get jazz and swing music into he limelight of popular culture.
Benny Goodman’s career and collaborations speak for themselves as he has been widely regarded as not only a demanding if not perfectionist musician, but also Goodman was known for breaking the color barrier in music. In the 1930’s, black and white musicians could not play with each other, let alone in the same club. To combat this, Goodman hired two well known black jazz musicians to play in his trio, Teddy Wilson and Gene Krupa and later adding Lionel Hampton on vibes to form the Benny Goodman Quartet. Goodman and his ensembles were so popular that despite the Jim Crow laws in the south, the group was financially profitable in the northern states to where they didn’t even have to tour through the south. Keep in mind that all of this racial tension and subsequent integration within jazz music happened about 10 years before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball.
So you ask, who is Benny Goodman? Benny Goodman formed a new and still widely popular genre of music, he broke down racial walls and stereotypes, he changed popular culture in the 1930’s and 1940’s and even managed to get into a few major motion pictures ending up with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He did more int he span of 20 years than many of us could imagine doing in a lifetime; so next time that you hear his iconic swing song ‘sing, sing, sing’ remember the enormous contributions to not only music and popular culture, but also to humanity’s never ending fight for equality.