Benny Goodman - Personality and Influence

Personality and Influence

Goodman was regarded by some as a demanding taskmaster, by others an arrogant and eccentric martinet. Many musicians spoke of "The Ray", Goodman's trademark glare that he bestowed on a musician who failed to perform to his demanding standards. Guitarist Allan Reuss incurred the maestro's displeasure on one occasion, and Goodman relegated him to the rear of the bandstand, where his contribution would be totally drowned out by the other musicians. Vocalists Anita O'Day and Helen Forrest spoke bitterly of their experiences singing with Goodman. "The twenty or so months I spent with Benny felt like twenty years," said Forrest. "When I look back, they seem like a life sentence." At the same time, there are reports that he privately funded several college educations and was sometimes very generous, though always secretly. When a friend once asked him why, he reportedly said, "Well, if they knew about it, everyone would come to me with their hand out."

"As far as I'm concerned, what he did in those days—and they were hard days, in 1937—made it possible for Negroes to have their chance in baseball and other fields."
—Lionel Hampton on Benny Goodman

Goodman is also responsible for a significant step in racial integration in America. In the early 1930s, black and white jazz musicians could not play together in most clubs or concerts. In the Southern states, racial segregation was enforced by the Jim Crow laws. Benny Goodman broke with tradition by hiring Teddy Wilson to play with him and drummer Gene Krupa in the Benny Goodman Trio. In 1936, he added Lionel Hampton on vibes to form the Benny Goodman Quartet; in 1939 he added pioneering jazz guitarist Charlie Christian to his band and small ensembles, who played with him until his death from tuberculosis less than three years later. This integration in music happened ten years before Jackie Robinson became the first black American to enter Major League Baseball. " popularity was such that he could remain financially viable without touring the South, where he would have been subject to arrest for violating Jim Crow laws." According to Jazz by Ken Burns, when someone asked him why he "played with that nigger" (referring to Teddy Wilson), Goodman replied, "I'll knock you out if you use that word around me again".

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