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Top 10 Facts about Benny Goodman

Benny Goodman was an American jazz musician, bandleader, and one of the most influential 20th-century clarinet virtuoso. Goodman had a complex personality, and his approach to music reflected his constant search for excellence.

He rose to fame just by playing the music he adored and spent his entire life honing his clarinet. He was responsible for numerous hit singles as a bandleader before World War II.

He was at the pinnacle of his popularity in the 1930s, when swing was dominant, recording innumerable singles and being the first jazz band to perform at Carnegie Hall.

1. What was Benny Goodman’s real name?

Benjamin David Goodman is Benny Goodman’s full name.

2. Where is Benny Goodman originally from?

Benny Goodman is from Chicago, Illinois, United States.

3. What was Benny Goodman’s theme song?

“Let’s Dance” is instrumental jazz classic that Benny Goodman has used for his intro theme for almost 50 years.

4. Who was one of the first people to have racially integrated recording bands?

Benny Goodman was the first jazz bandleader to play at Carnegie Hall, and he led a   racially diverse group.

10. The Emergence of a Benny Goodman

Benny Goodman in his youth
Benny Goodman in his youth

Benjamin David Goodman, also known as Benny Goodman, was born on May 30, 1909, to a low-income family in Chicago, Illinois. Goodman started his clarinet training at a local community center and continued at Hull House, where he studied with a member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Franz Schoepp, a classically trained clarinetist and member of the Chicago Symphony, taught Benny for two years.

He played professionally by 13 and obtained his first union card at the American Federation of Musicians. In 1933, he met jazz admirer John Henry Hammond, who inspired him to join a jazz band.

His early influences included Chicago-based New Orleans jazz clarinetists like Jimmie Noone and Johnny Dodds. He entered the musicians’ union when he was 14 and played in a band with Bix Beiderbecke. 

In 1922, he completed high school in Chicago and joined the Ben Pollack Orchestra. He was a clarinetist who debuted professionally in 1921 and made his first recordings in 1926.

9. Personal and Marital Life of Benny Goodman

Benny Goodman with his family
Benny Goodman with his family

Benny Goodman was born in a poor Jewish emigrant family. He was the ninth child born into the family, and he had 11 siblings in total.

His father, David Goodman, worked as a tailor to support the vast family, but money was always a concern for the Goodmans.

Dora Grisinsky, his mother, was from Kaunas. His parents met in Baltimore, Maryland, and relocated to Chicago before Goodman was born.

John Hammond, Columbia producer, was one of Goodman’s closest companions. Goodman married Hammond’s sister, Alice Francis Hammond Duckworth, on March 20, 1942.

They raised Alice’s three daughters from her last marriage and had two daughters of their own. Goodman’s daughter, Rachel, became a classical pianist. From the age of 16, she rarely performed with him in concerts.

8. Personality and Temperament

In a live performance of “Spirituals to Swing” in 1939, Hammond pursued Charlie Christian in Kansas City, where he previously performed as a Goodman band that upset Goodman.

They clashed over the band’s music until Goodman paid no attention to Hammond. Their conflicts became increasingly heated, and Hammond quit Columbia in 1941.

In most venues and concerts in the 1930s, black and white artists couldn’t perform together. He was the first jazz bandleader to play at Carnegie Hall.

Goodman aided racial integration in the United States. He was a charitable man who discreetly funded multiple college educations.

Some saw Goodman as a stern taskmaster, while others saw him as an arrogant and arrogant martinet. Anita O’Day and Helen Forrest, both vocalists, spoke angrily about their encounters singing with Goodman.

7. Hard Days for Goodman

Mr. Goodman grew into King of Swing, On August 21, 1935, at the Palomar Ballroom in Hollywood. But when Mr. Goodman came at the Palomar in the summers of 1935 with a 14-piece band he had assembled a year before; there was no sense of success surrounding him.

He was so disheartened that he was willing to abandon his band and go freelance. His profession as a bandleader had been unsuccessful.

His band had been fired from its only two New York gigs, and after finishing a 26-week contract on a network radio show, it had embarked on a cross-country journey from New York to California.

Mr. Goodman’s repertory of jazz-based compositions drew reactions ranging from astonishment to contempt.

“I figured we’d finish the contract in California, catch a train back to New York, and that would be the end of it. I’d be a clarinetist forever,” he recalled years later.

6. Session musician to bandleader

Benny Goodman with some famous musicians
Benny Goodman with some famous musicians

Goodman relocated to New York City and worked as a studio musician for radio, Broadway shows, and recording studios. On December 9, 1926, Goodman made his first pressed-to-disc tape in Chicago.

Glenn Miller, Harry Goodman, and Ben Pollack participated in the session, which resulted in the song “When I First Met Mary.” Goodman and Glenn Miller wrote “Room 1411,” published as a Brunswick 78 in 1928. A Jazz Holiday, Benny Goodman’s first album, was published in 1928.

Two years later, Goodman relocated to Los Angeles to join Ben Pollack’s band. In 1931, with the song “He’s Not Worth Your Tears,” Goodman gained his first taste of chart success on his own.

“I Ain’t Lazy, I’m Just Dreamin'” and ” Ain’t Cha Glad?” were also top ten successes for him. His orchestra recorded “Moonglow,” which went to the top one and was followed by Top Ten hits “Take My Word” and “Bugle Call Rag.”

During the 1930s and early 1940s, Goodman had six more Top Ten singles for Columbia, including Spud Murphy’s “Get Happy” and “Limehouse Blues.”

NBC hired Benny Goodman to perform on their radio show Let’s Dance. Fletcher Henderson, who had disbanded his orchestra due to debt, wrote his arrangements.

After a strike by Nabisco employees caused the series’ discontinuation in 1939, the show was discontinued.

5. Benny Goodman’s Bebop Experience 

Benny Goodman during his Germany concert
Benny Goodman during his Germany concert

With his large band, Goodman maintained his success throughout the late 1930s. By the mid-1940s, big bands had lost much of their popularity, and swing was no longer the dominant style of jazz musicians.  

Some jazz players were drawing from the classical musical style by the 1940s, while others, including Charlie Parker, expanded swing’s rhythmic, structural, and melody repertoire to form bebop. Goodman sought advice from his friend Mary Lou Williams on approaching the music of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.

Goodman is among the first prominent bandleaders to disband their orchestras during WWII, and reluctantly he accepted the bebop movement, recording three records with notable bop players in the late 1940s.

Critics praised the bebop songs Goodman did for Capitol. He sought advice from his friend Mary Lou Williams on approaching the music of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.

In 1950, Goodman’s experimentation with bop ended, and he reverted to his old swing technique.

4. Experimenting with Classical Embellishments

Benny Goodman performing
Benny Goodman performing

Goodman performed classical music more frequently in his final years. In 1949, he studied clarinet with Reginald Kell, which required a shift in technique. He began to re-learn how to handle his clarinet, nearly from scratch.

Contrasts by Béla Bartók and Malcolm Arnold’s Clarinet Concerto No. 2, Op. 115 were among the compositions he premiered.

Leonard Bernstein’s Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs was intended for Woody Herman’s big band, but Goodman performed it.

At the Berkshire Festival in July 1956, he recorded Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet with the Boston Symphony String Quartet; on the same occasion, he recorded Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major, K. 622, with the Boston Symphony Orchestra conducted by Charles Munch.

3. The Game Changer “King of Swing” 

The King of Swing - Benny Goodman
The King of Swing – Benny Goodman

The swing period was the most well-known period in American big band swing music. Black and white bands have played the music since the 1920s and 1930s. On August 21, 1935, Benny Goodman performed at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, a breakthrough event in the history of swing music.

The previous gig at Pismo Beach was a disappointment, and the band thought the positive response in Oakland was a coincidence. The next night, August 21, 1935, at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, is widely regarded as the start of the swing era.

Palomar event’s news aired on national radio, which generated national attention. Goodman became a superstar, and big-band jazz had now found a niche.

The Goodman ensemble achieved remarkable success, and Goodman himself was named the “King of Swing.”

Goodman and his band became the first racially diverse big band in the United States to perform in front of a paid audience. “Goody, Goody,” “If I Could Be with You,” and “Stompin’ at the Savoy” were all recorded by the band. Slingerland Drum Company dubbed Krupa the “King of Swing.”

Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald were also the biggest stars of swing music in the 1930s. Big-band jazz would undergo a revival in the 1950s, but it would never regain the prominence it enjoyed at the time.

2. Honors and achievements over later life

Benny Goodman's Walk of Fame
Benny Goodman’s Walk of Fame

Goodman died of a heart attack while sleeping in his Manhattan House apartment on June 13, 1986. Ignoring his health concerns, he continued to perform six days before his death with his final performance. In 1984, he had a pacemaker implanted.

He had received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and honorary doctorates from Brandeis University and Bard College just before his death.

Dustin Hoffman narrated the documentary Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story (2010), which featured Goodman’s music.

In 1957, he was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame, and he was also honored in the radio broadcasting hall of fame.

Union College, the University of Illinois, and Harvard University awarded honorary doctorates to Goodman.

1. Biopic: The Benny Goodman Story

Cover of the Benny Goodman Story
Cover of the Benny Goodman Story

The Benny Goodman Biography movie is a biopic, directed by Valentine Davies and starring Steve Allen and Donna Reed in 1956, which Universal-International released. The film depicts several significant events in Goodman’s life, yet it has been criticized for inaccuracy.

The film’s plot revolves around a young Benny Goodman, a Chicago music professor who teaches Goodman classical clarinet. Later, in New York, where his band is met with resistance, Benny encounters jazz fan John Hammond and his sister Alice.

Because of Benny’s early success, Fletcher Henderson arranges for him on the radio. He assembles a quartet, including Gene Krupa on drums, Teddy Wilson on piano, and Lionel Hampton on vibraphone.

Benny Goodman’s mother is anxious about her son’s affair with lady Alice in 1920s New York City, but by the time he performs at Carnegie Hall, everything was fine with Mrs. Goodman and Benny.


Goodman pioneered and was the most famous early practitioner of swing music. Goodman, an outstanding clarinetist, dominated his large band and groups, blending a more excellent standard of jazz expertise with immense commercial popularity.

On January 16, 1938, Goodman performed a historical jazz concert at Carnegie Hall, the finale of which was “Sing, Sing, Sing,” and the song’s studio recording was later inducted into the Grammy Hall Fame.

Goodman, still regarded as one of jazz’s finest artists, was honored on a postage stamp in 1996 as one of the Icons of American Music succession.

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