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May 30: The King of Swing

May 31, 2013

goodman_benny_450pBenny Goodman, the clarinetist and bandleader who helped to racially integrate the jazz world and heighten the “respectability” of jazz by playing a 1938 Carnegie Hall concert with black and white players on stage, was born in Chicago, the ninth of twelve children in his family, on this date in 1909. Goodman made his professional debut as a clarinetist in 1921, before entering high school, and joined the musicians’ union in 1923. At the age of 14 he was playing alongside trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke, and by 1926 he was recording. In his early twenties he was a much-sought studio musician, and in 1934 he organized his own band and landed a job in Billy Rose’s Music Hall theater/restaurant. Within months, he added Gene Krupa as drummer and Fletch Henderson as arranger and was playing on NBC radio’s Saturday night broadcast, “Let’s Dance”. By the time he was 28, Goodman was known as “The King of Swing” (Krupa made up the monicker) — and in the 1940s he began a second career as soloist with symphony orchestras. Goodman was the first nationally known musician to break the color line with integrated bands. “As far as I’m concerned,” said his vibraphonist, Lionel Hampton, “what he did in those days — and they were hard days . . . made it possible for Negroes to have their chance in baseball and other fields.” In 1986, the year of his death at 77, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. To see Goodman in a mellow piece at an older age, see the top video, below. To see him ripping it up in 1938 with his quartet and then his big band, see below that.

“After you’ve done all the work and prepared as much as you can, what the hell, you might as well go out and have a good time.” —Benny Goodman