The A to Z of Carnegie Hall: G is for Goodman
Our journey through the A to Z of Carnegie Hall continues with the letter G for Goodman, Benny Goodman—the man who brought jazz into the concert hall.
Any artist's Carnegie Hall debut is an auspicious occasion. In Benny Goodman's case, January 16, 1938, was not only the debut of a major star, but it also marked the first time people sat in a concert hall to hear swing music rather than dance to it. Moreover, the Goodman band was one of the first racially integrated groups to perform in front of a paying audience. Musicians that night included Gene Krupa and Lionel Hampton. Count Basie, Buck Clayton, Johnny Hodges, Walter Page, and Lester Young also made their Carnegie Hall debuts at this event.
Popular lore often maintains that Benny Goodman's 1938 concert was the first jazz concert at Carnegie Hall—that distinction actually belongs to James Reese Europe and his Clef Club Orchestra—but the importance of a racially mixed ensemble on such a highly visible public stage cannot be understated. Although nightclub and ballroom audiences had seen Hampton and pianist Teddy Wilson in the group since 1936, "it was the first time black and white ever played together," as vibraphonist Lionel Hampton often asserted of Goodman's quartet.
The flyer for Benny Goodman's groundbreaking 1938 concert at Carnegie Hall. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.
The three-sheet poster for Goodman's Carnegie Hall debut draws attention. Courtesy of the Carnegie Hall Archives.
Benny Goodman and his orchestra perform "Blue Skies" and "Sensation Rag" from the recordings of the 1938 concert.
The Clarinet as Cornerstone
Following this watershed moment in 1938, Benny Goodman returned to Carnegie Hall more than two dozen times, his final concerts taking place on June 25, 1982. Even following his death in 1986, however, Goodman influenced the history of the Hall.
Carnegie Hall's Archives and Rose Museum Director Gino Francesconi remembers, "In 1987, while choosing a photo of Benny at the Goodman apartment for placement in the Hall, I explained how we had established an archives only the year before and were frantically searching for items to mount a centennial exhibition in 1991. One of Benny's daughters asked if we intended to display items after the centennial year. I mentioned vitrines on the tiers had been discussed. 'If you do something more permanent than that, I will give you one of my father's clarinets.' I still get chills."
"On January 16, 1988—the 50th anniversary of her father's concert—Rachel Goodman Edelson presented one of her father's clarinets to Isaac Stern as the first donation for 'a future Carnegie Hall museum,'" Francesconi continues. "Goodman made history here and his family inspired us to share our history with the public. Thanks to the generosity of Suzy and Elihu Rose, that museum became a reality in 1991 and Benny's clarinet can be viewed among hundreds of artifacts in the Rose Museum when our permanent exhibition is on display."
Benny Goodman's clarinet on display in the Rose Museum. Photo by Jennifer Taylor.