“King of Swing”
Goodman was born in Chicago, the ninth of twelve children of poor Jewish emigrants from the Russian Empire. Money was a constant problem in the family. Benny’s father earned at most $20 per week. On Sundays, his father took the children to free band concerts in Douglas Park, which was the first time Benny experienced live professional performances. To give his children some skills and an appreciation for music, his father enrolled ten-year-old Benny and two of his brothers in music lessons at the Kehelah Jacob Synagogue, which charged his father only 25¢ per lesson, including the use of the synagogue’s instruments.
Goodman made his professional debut in 1921 at the Central Park Theater on Chicago’s West Side. He entered Harrison High School in Chicago in 1922. He joined the musicians’ union in 1923 and by the age of 14 was in a band featuring Bix Beiderbecke. Goodman attended Lewis Institute (now Illinois Institute of Technology) in 1924 as a high-school sophomore, while also playing the clarinet in a dance hall band. When Goodman was 16, he joined one of Chicago’s top bands, the Ben Pollack Orchestra, with which he made his first recordings in 1926. Goodman made his first record under his own name for Vocalion two years later. He recorded with the regular Pollack band and smaller groups drawn from the orchestra through 1929. The side sessions produced scores of sides recorded for the various dimestore record labels under an array of group names, including Mills’ Musical Clowns, Goody’s Good Timers, the Hotsy Totsy Gang, Jimmy Backen’s Toe Ticklers, Dixie Daisies, and Kentucky Grasshoppers.
After winning numerous polls over the years as best jazz clarinetist, Goodman was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1957. He continued to play on records and in small groups. In the early 1970s he collaborated with George Benson after the two met taping a PBS salute to John Hammond, recreating some of Goodman’s famous duets with Charlie Christian.