You are now entering the Jewish Currents archive.

Integrating Carnegie Hall

January 16, 2018

Benny Goodman blew the lid off Carnegie Hall on this date in 1938, in a legendary jazz concert — tickets had sold out weeks in advance — that made the “uptown” (i.e., Black) music respectable among the midtown set. The “King of Swing” was joined onstage by Lionel Hampton, Lester Young, Johnny Hodges, Teddy Wilson, and other Black musicians, marking the first time that a major American concert hall hosted a racially integrated group. Goodman’s commitment to breaking the color barrier was complemented by John Hammond, his agent and eventual brother-in-law, who believed that music could allow people to recognize their common humanity and who simply hired the best jazz musicians of the time to play alongside Goodman. “Jazz became integrated ten years before baseball,” Pete Seeger once observed, “largely because of John Hammond.” (Scroll down to see newsreel footage from the concert.)

“If a guy’s got it, let him give it. I’m selling music, not prejudice.” —Benny Goodman