US jazz clarinettist and bandleader, known as the ‘King of Swing’.
Born and raised in Chicago, he joined the musician's union there at the age of thirteen. After many years of freelance work, he formed his first regular band in 1934, which was featured on a network radio show from New York. On tour the next year, the band was suddenly a huge success in Los Angeles and elsewhere with ballroom dancers. Big-band jazz, which had been played by black bands for years, became a nationwide craze.
His band remained faithful to the jazz concept. An excellent musician and jazz soloist, he insisted on adequate rehearsal time and precise playing by each of the sections. He also employed the best arrangers, such as Edgar Sampson (1907–73) and Fletcher Henderson. As well as the drummer Gene Krupa (1909–73) and the trumpeter Harry James (1916–83), Goodman also featured the black pianist Teddy Wilson (1912–86) and Lionel Hampton – a brave innovation at that time. The band appeared in several films, such as The Big Broadcast of 1937, and played in the first jazz concert at Carnegie Hall in 1938. In 1939 Goodman published The Kingdom of Swing (with music critic Irving Kolodin). His sextet of 1939–41 was a particularly popular jazz group, with Cootie Williams (1908–85) on the trumpet and Charlie Christian (1916–42) on the electric guitar.
As an elder statesman of American music, he led many bands, large and small, all over the world, including the Soviet Union in 1962. A biographical film, The Benny Goodman Story, was released in 1955, taking the usual fictional liberties. Goodman also played classical music, commissioning works by Copland and Hindemith, but it will undoubtedly be for his jazz that he will be remembered.