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January 16: Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall

Lawrence Bush
January 16, 2010

Benny-Goodman-and-his-orc-007Benny Goodman blew the lid off Carnegie Hall on this date in 1938, in a legendary jazz concert 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 greatly faciliated by John Hammond, his agent and eventual brother-in-law, who simply brought the best players in jazz to play with him. “Jazz became integrated ten years before baseball,” Pete Seeger has observed, “largely because of John Hammond.”
“If a guy’s got it, let him give it. I’m selling music, not prejudice.” —Benny Goodman

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.