Our Top 10 Benny Goodman Songs list presents the best Benny Goodman Songs like “Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)” “Rose Room” and many more. In a 1975 interview, Benny Goodman revealed music was his great escape. The man known as the King of Swing was born on May 30, 1909, in Chicago, Illinois. His parents were Jewish immigrants who came to the United States in 1892. Goodman was one of twelve children in a household that consistently met with financial issues. On Sundays, the father took Goodman and his siblings to free band concerts in Douglass Park.
It was his goal to inspire his children to appreciate music and perhaps learn some valuable skills. Goodman and two of his brothers were later enrolled in music lessons before he joined the boys club band at Chicago’s Hull House. After receiving his union card at thirteen years old, Goodman performed on Lake Michigan excursion boats. He also performed in high school and local dance halls.
All That Jazz
Benny Goodman’s earliest musical influence was jazz when musicians from New Orleans performed in Chicago. He learned from them, earning enough skill to make his professional debut in 1921 at West Side Chicago’s Central Park Theater. While a member of the musicians’ union, he worked in the same band that featured fellow jazz musician, Bix Beiderbecke. In 1926, at seventeen years old, Goodman joined the Ben Pollack Orchestra and made his first recording.
Shortly afterward, he moved to New York City and became a session musician for Broadway musicals, radio, and studios. His niche instrument was the clarinet but also played alto saxophone and baritone saxophone. The first recording Benny Goodman made was on December 9, 1926, while he was in Chicago. In 1928, as Benny Goodman’s Boys, he and Glenn Miller wrote, recorded, and released “Room 1411.”
“He’s Not Worth Your Tears” was Benny Goodman’s first song that became a charted hit that featured vocalist Scrappy Lambert. In 1934, Goodman signed a contract with Columbia that witnessed a series of top ten hits that had Jack Teagarden serve as Goodman’s lead vocalist. He also had Mildred Bailey and Billie Holiday sing some popular hits for him as well at that time.
After an invitation to play at the Billie Rose Music Hall, Benny Goodman created his own orchestra as he performed at this four-month-long event. It was during this time Benny Goodman and his orchestra recorded and released additional top ten hits. After Goodman was hired by NBC for its Let’s Dance radio program, Fletcher Henderson was hired to write musical arrangements for Goodman by John Hammond.
When the depression hit and Henderson had no choice but to disband his own orchestra due to debt, Goodman took them in and trained them how to play his music. While performing on Let’s Dance, the musical arrangements by Henderson featured Spud Murphy singing “Get Happy” and “Limehouse Blues.” Especially along the west coast, Benny Goodman was making a solid name for himself as a star-quality musician.
To Dance or Not to Dance
Despite Goodman’s hit music, his portion of the NBC radio program was broadcasted too late at night to attract a large enough audience on the east coast. When the employees of Nabisco went on strike on May 9, 1934, the sponsor of Let’s Dance pulled out. This forced a cancellation of the show. The duration of Goodman’s time spent performing with Let’s Dance was six months.
While there, he recorded and released a total of six additional top ten hits while still with the Columbia record label. Despite this success, when he and his orchestra filled in for Guy Lombardo at Manhattan’s Roosevelt Grill, the audience wasn’t prepared for their jazzy swing brand of music. The band failed to make a positive impression on them.
However, this didn’t stop Benny Goodman and his orchestra from continuing to perform. Among the audience that did appreciate his music, they had no problem dancing to it whenever they had the chance. There were some concert performances that met with an enthusiastic, ready-to-kick-it-up audience, along with a crowd that wasn’t so easy to please.
Before the Swing Era became a trend, it was clear some audience members were ready for Goodman’s enthusiastic music while the rest had yet to catch on. This even included the audience in Europe. Between opinionated authors and oppressive governments that had zero tolerance for Jewish influence of any kind, Benny Goodman and his orchestra were often seen as influential threats.
When Benny Goodman returned to America, he and his orchestra wowed the crowd at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, California, on August 21, 1935. This was the concert that made history as it was cited as the start of the swing era. This was also at the same time Goodman began to knock down social barriers, including putting an end to racial segregation as his bands were among the first to feature interracial musicians as part of the regular roster.
King of Swing
Later, what started out as a November 1935 invitation to play at the Congress Hotel’s Joseph Urban Room in Chicago resulted in a six-month gig for Benny Goodman and his orchestra. At least in the USA, the popularity of Goodman’s brand of music gained ground as radio stations across the nation had no trouble broadcasting his material. It was in high demand by a growing number of fans who couldn’t seem to get enough. While performing at the Congress Hotel, Benny Goodman took part in the Rhythm Club concerts.
These are the concerts credited as the first occasion racially integrated big bands began to perform before a paying audience on American soil. It was during this time the radio broadcasts from Chicago dubbed Benny Goodman the Rajah of Rhythm. Meanwhile, drummer Gene Krupa was referred to as the King of Swing as part of a sales promotion.
This title was quickly referenced to Goodman by the media after he and his orchestra left Chicago in 1936 to film The Big Broadcast of 1937 in Hollywood, California. On June 30, 1936, Benny Goodman and his band started Camel Caravan, a CBS-hosted radio show that starred him and Nathaniel Shilkret.
Before 1937 was over, Bennie Goodman and his orchestra were suggested to play in New York City’s Carnegie Hall. On January 16, 1938, the sold-out concert featured Goodman and his band playing what was regarded as one of the most significant events in jazz history. Finally, jazz music was finally getting the amount of appreciation and recognition it deserved.
The concert featured several recordings but failed to measure up to the quality level of Benny Goodman and his orchestra is known for. There were acetate recordings of the concert, as well as aluminum studio masters. These were produced by Albert Marx as special gifts. The first set went to his wife, Helen Ward, and the second set went to Benny Goodman. Goodman’s copy was taken to Columbia and was later arranged as The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert.
The height of Benny Goodman’s career saw a significant number of top ten and number one hits that featured many members who were part of his bands that became jazz legends themselves. Talent such as Helen Ward, Ella Fitzgerald, Gene Krupa, Harry James, Artie Shaw, and Glenn Miller are just a tiny handful of names that started their iconic careers with Goodman.
The talent pool swung in and out of Benny Goodman’s bands as frequently as a busy revolving door turns. It was a formula that worked well as Goodman’s name was credited to scores of musical material that not only became jazz standards. Much of it also influenced the birth of R&B music, as well as country and rock and roll.
In 1939, a certain guitarist named Charlie Christian was recommended to Benny Goodman as an addition to his band. However, Goodman wasn’t interested in electric guitar music and didn’t care for Christian’s choice of clothing. While performing a concert in Beverly Hills, Charlie Christian was inserted into Goodman’s orchestra by John Hammond during concert break.
Hammond was the man behind Let’s Dance, as well as paired Goodman and Henderson up with each other as the dynamic duo that first fueled the jazz swing craze. For Goodman, when he and his band began to play “Rose Room” he assumed Christian wouldn’t know it. As it turned out, he did and it was a stellar performance. From 1939 until 1941, he was a member of the Benny Goodman Sextet. During the two years Christian served with the group, the electric guitar became a popular instrument in the genre of jazz music.
The latter half of the 1930s witnessed Benny Goodman and his orchestra perform as a trio, a quartet, a sextet, and a big band. In 1941, this momentum was caught up in a licensing war that brewed between the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and music publishers.
From 1942 until 1948, then again in 1948, the musicians’ union went on strike against the major American-based record labels. During the 1942 strike, the United States War Department approached the union and requested a set of records featuring new recordings for soldiers to listen to. This resulted in the rise of a new breed of musical artists. Before the 1940s was over, swing music was no longer the dominant force in jazz music.
The 1940s witnessed a new style of music, bebop, work its way into the music industry, including jazz. There was also the fusion of classical, harmonic, and rhythmic material that Benny Goodman was keen to capitalize on. He brought on board Buddy Greco, Wardell Gray, and Zoot Sims to form his bebop band. He also sought professional advice from trusted sources to further understand the music styles of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Fortunately for Goodman, he enjoyed bebop music. However, as much as he enjoyed listening to it, he felt his true niche as a performer was in swing.
Feeling he needed to change his technique, Benny Goodman studied with fellow clarinetist Regnial Kell in 1949. He learned how to adjust a style he previously used, using this new approach in musical ensembles that have since become standard pieces of classical repertoire. He premiered a series of works by composers, including Contrasts from Bela Bartok, Clarinet Concerto by Aaron Copeland, and Prelude, Fugue, and Riffs by Leonard Bernstein, just to name a few. In 1956 with the Boston Symphony String Quartet at the Berkshire Festival, Goodman made a recording of Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet.
Benny Goodman Legacy
Thanks to Benny Goodman and his bands, it was he who started the careers of many jazz musicians. While racial segregation was still an issue, it was he who led the first integrated jazz groups. For a while, his closest friend was John Hammond, the man responsible for influencing Goodman to record for him via Columbia. Unfortunately, the friendship and partnership didn’t last as creative differences hampered their relationship.
Come 1941, Hammond left Columbia. Hammond also became Goodman’s brother-in-law as he married Hammond’s sister, Alice, in 1942. The couple had two daughters together, making it five for Alice as she had three from her first marriage. their daughter, Rachel, followed her father’s footsteps as a musician, becoming a classical pianist. She also performed with him in concert as a teenager.
In 1975, Goodman appeared on a PBS special that paid tribute to John Hammond but kept his distance. It wasn’t until Alice Goodman passed away in the 1980s did Goodman and Hammond repair their broken friendship. In 1985, Goodman paid tribute to John Hammond in New York City’s Avery Fisher Hall. Throughout Goodman’s career, his personal standards as a musician didn’t just see a tempestuous relationship with Hammond.
Other members of the entertainment industry had mixed opinions about Goodman’s demeanor but there was a mutual agreement his love for quality music was undeniable. There was also no denying his legacy as a man who helped racial integration in the United States. Despite the Jim Crow racial segregation laws that were enforced in the Southern states, Goodman opted to ignore this brand of racism. Whenever he was approached about his decision to hire members of the black community as musicians for his band, he’d threaten to beat them with his clarinet.
During the era of the Cold War against the Soviet Union, Benny Goodman and his orchestra took part in a cultural exchange program in 1962. Goodman visited the Soviets, hoping his effort would help ease diplomatic tensions between that nation and America. The visit resulted in bassist Bill Crow publishing To Russia Without Love as a voice of criticism against Goodman and the tour.
To Benny Goodman’s credit, he was inducted into the Down Beat jazz Hall of Fame in 1957 and was a member of the radio division of the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame. In 1986, the year of his death, Goodman was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He received this award shortly after he died of heart failure on June 13, 1986. Despite his ailing health, he continued to perform. His death occurred in New York City, just days after he made his final performance.
Top 10 Benny Goodman Songs
# 10 – Seven Come Eleven
1940 witnessed “Seven Come Eleven” serve as yet another cult classic hit as a swinging jazz number from Benny Goodman. In 2006, “Seven Come Eleven” was recognized by the Grammy Hall of Fame. This was a song that featured the legendary Charlie Christian as the electrical guitar genius behind Benny Goodman’s sextet.
This performance served as the source of inspiration behind Seven Come Eleven, a swing jazz meets bebop album that was recorded and released in 1974 by Herb Ellis and Joe Pass. In 1940, Charlie Christian already earned a name for himself as a dominant force in jazz music. It was only a matter of time before he’d move on and embark on a career on his own.
While “Seven Come Eleven” may not have been a big hit on any music charts, it was the incredible talent of Christian, as well as Goodman’s demand for performance perfection, that made this song an all-time classic.
# 9 – Why Don’t You Do Right (featuring Peggy Lee)
In 1943, “Why Don’t You Do Right” featured Peggy Lee as the lead vocalist for a song that was prepared for the movie, Stage Door Canteen. Long before Peggy Lee emerged as a legendary songstress that graced the music charts as a soloist, her career as a professional performer began with Benny Goodman. As a single, “Why Don’t You Do Right” became a number one hit on what is now known today as the US Billboard Hot 100. This was the song that technically launched Lee’s career as a vocal artist.
# 8 – Stompin’ at the Savoy
First composed by Edgar Sampson in 1933, “Stompin’ at the Savoy” was named after New York City’s famous nightspot in Harlem, the Savoy Ballroom. Benny Goodman’s 1936 version was arranged in a manner that turned this tune into a swinging favorite and remains a standout favorite. It was among the numbers played during Goodman’s iconic performance at New York City’s Carnegie Hall in 1938. The audience couldn’t help themselves but swing and stomp to a tune that has since become a jazz standard.
# 7 – I Got Rhythm
Originally published as a jazz song arranged by George Gershwin in 1930, what the brothers created became a jazz standard that also served as a foundation for many popular tunes belonging to the genre. It was originally designed as a slow song for 1928’s Treasure Girl but was sped up for 1930’s Girl Crazy.
Although already made famous by the Gershwins and Ethel Merman, Benny Goodman’s performance of this song during his infamous concert at Carnegie Hall on January 16, 1938, was one for the record books.
The Famous 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert was a two-disc recording that featured jazz and swing music that served as a landmark recording. It was the first time a big band performed in New York City’s infamous concert hall and it was a sold-out, smashing success.
#6 – King Porter Stomp
In 1935, Benny Goodman’s Orchestra became one of the most popular groups in the music industry. Their appearance on NBC radio’s Let’s Dance allowed opportunities for different types of dance music to be introduced. At the time, Benny Goodman and Fletcher Henderson became the dynamic duo of musical talents who knew how to get the audience swinging. The origin of this song began in 1906 as the first stomp-style music in jazz music history.
It was recorded for the first time by Jelly Roll Morton in 1923 as a piano solo but did not become copyrighted until 1924. Morton recorded it again, this time as a duet with Joe Oliver on cornet. As for Benny Goodman’s version, he recorded this as a Fletcher Henderson arrangement and since became a big band standard tune.
#5 – Bugle Call Rag
“Bugle Call Rag” became a jazz standard after it was first played in 1922 as “Bugle call Blues” by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. Benny Goodman’s instrumental version was among the several recording artists that turned this tune into a popular hit in 1934. Swing music was sweeping the nation in a big way that saw Goodman unofficially crowned as the king of this popular jazz style. The popularity of Goodman’s version was featured in Stage Door Canteen in 1943 and The Benny Goodman Story in 1956.
#4 – Room 1411
Shortly after Benny Goodman moved to New York City in 1928, he began to record music for Brunswick Records. “Room 1411” was the result of one of Goodman’s earliest compositions. Co-written by Glenn Miller, the legends of big band classics recorded this single as Benny Goodman and His Boys. Not long after, Glenn Miller ventured on his own as a big bandleader legend himself, often rivaling Goodman as one of the most influential musicians in the rising popularity of jazz and swing music.
#3 – Moonglow
In 1933, “Moonglow” became a popular song that was first recorded by Joe Venuti, then by Benny Goodman, as well as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, and Ethel Waters. What has now become a jazz standard, it was The Benny Goodman Quartet featuring Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa, and Teddy Wilson which made this song a famous swinging favorite in 1936. As of 2016, “Moonglow” has become one of the all-time favorite songs to cover with 572 recordings to its credit.
This doesn’t count the re-releases, which drastically outnumber the original recordings that were made. For Goodman, his instrumental recording became a number one hit on the American music charts in July 1934. This was Goodman’s first number one hit in his career but by no means his last.
#2 – Rose Room
“Rose Room” was already a swinging jazz favorite before Charlie Christian’s electric guitar talent was introduced to John Hammond and Benny Goodman in 1939. Hammond was impressed while Goodman was not. When Hammond had Christian sit in after a concert break to perform, Goodman assumed “Rose Room” would be a song he wouldn’t be able to play as it wasn’t very well known at the time. He chose it as a test. As it turned out, Christian passed with flying colors as he knew the song well enough to sing when it came time to perform the solo.
The band wound up jamming “Rose Room” for forty minutes and the impressed Goodman hired Christian on the spot. For two years, Christian not only earned his keep as Goodman’s prized electric guitarist but as a revolutionary musical wonder. Thanks to Charlie Christian, and Goodman’s recognition of raw talent as he heard it, “Rose Room” essentially became the birthing room, so to speak, of a new genre of music that was destined to rock the world by storm.
#1 – Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)
“Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)” was a thrilling instrumental that was later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. It originally started out as a publicity stunt as no jazz musician had ever played in New York City’s Carnegie Hall as of 1938. This song became an iconic hit as the sold-out concert served as the defining moment for jazz music to make its mark in American pop culture history.
The climax of Goodman’s legendary concert featured Gene Krupa performing as the drummer behind “Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing).” This became one of the biggest swing hits of all time, as well as triggered Krupa to broaden his own horizons as a musical artist.
Feature Photo: DuMont Television network; photographer: William Kahn, New York City., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Top 10 Benny Goodman Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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