Benjamin David Goodman, widely known as Benny Goodman, was an icon and what you’d prefer to as a revolutionary musician during that era. Goodman’s musical and creative excellence filled prestigious halls during the early 1900s. Goodman entertained audiences on an international scale for nearly 50 years without changing the style of his music nor its quality. To understand why Benny is called a legend, you must look at his music journey displaying testimony of him deserving such accolades. Known as a “Patriarch of the Clarinet”, he indicated great talents and started this musical journey at a very young age. Their family stems from very humble beginnings and background.
Born the 9th child of 12 children with Russian immigrant parents, their family was far from privileged. Benny’s father worked as a mere tailor to support their family. Fortunately for the 1920s music industry and Benny’s accumulated fans, David Goodman, their father, decided to enroll Benjamin in a music school. From the tender age of 10 years old, along with his brother, David Goodman’s sons were enrolled at Kehelah Jacob Synagogue in Chicago to study music. Herein is where an upcoming legend got introduced to a lifetime partner, the clarinet. He learned to play clarinet under the strict guidance of renowned musicians during your early 1900s, Franz Schoepp.
David’s decision to enroll him for music studies with Schoepp’s tutelage unraveled an instrumental genius loved by many internationally. And his talents didn’t hesitate to expose themselves almost immediately. At just 11 years old, this young clarinet player was already playing on a professional level and part of a band. When he reached 12 years, Benjamin’s portfolio already encompassed features with some renowned artists like Frank Teschemacher. His professional debut officially started at that young age, having him decide to leave school to focus on music as a career. We could argue that our legendary musician was at a young age to make such decisions.
However, thanks to musical excellence showed by young Benny, a membership to join the American Federation of Musicians was awarded to him at just 14 years old. Although Benjamin had already gained popularity performing professionally, he only released a debut album in 1928. It did not receive any awards but was widely praised by jazz audiences. Their 1931 song “He’s not worth your tears” with vocalist Scrappy Lambert was in the top-ranked hits on charts, becoming Goodman’s first chart ranking. Seemingly, this was just a start because the music released thereafter was continuously in your top 10 rankings. Benny’s popularity grew immensely, becoming a game-changer, even
an innovator framing a new era for America’s music scene.
In 1934, the clarinet player decided to take on band-leadership proving to have the abilities for that too. With their orchestra created, Benny took to breaking industry norms while wowing audiences. During the 1930s, jazz was seen as a ‘folk’ oriented genre by society who banned it at some prestigious venues. The King of Swing was not swayed nor disheartened by these perceptions. August 21, 1935, marks the night whereby the “swing era” came alive. As a band, they not only introduced ‘swing jazz’ to their Palomar Ballroom audience but impressed them beyond measure.
The “sensational” performance, as the event attendees called it, was followed by yet another game-changing gig. For the first time in history, the band performed their jazz at the prestigious Carnegie Hall. Prejudice venues were not the only challenges Benny claimed victory over. Their group was the first racially mixed band, causing more heads to turn. Goodman was vocal against prejudices towards the color of any artist. Benny David Goodman was a music genius, a man with exceptional talent.
Benjamin’s contributions to music and introducing jazz awarded him with an honorary doctorate in music from Columbia University. There were other awards received by the legend and King of Swing. The stage was Goodman’s playground from a tender age, right up to those last few days alive. A few days after that performance, Benny died from heart failure. The clarinetist left behind a legacy and archives filled with music excellence, still enjoyable today.