Racial Diversity and Jazz Music

Categories: Diversity

Racial discrimination has always been a prominent issue in America and it has been even more prevalent in the artistic and musical realm. While racial issues and injustices have died down in the musical world since the 1920s, it is very important to recall the struggles that many jazz artists faced during their career due to the color of their skin, and the ways in which some jazz artists tackled these racial issues. One important jazz figure whose career demonstrates how many artists would tackle these injustices is Benny Goodman.

Benny Goodman was an American clarinetist and was the leader of the most popular dance band in America at a time when swing jazz was America’s most popular music (Vitaly, 2018).

He helped to bridge the gap between white and African American musicians by integrating his jazz band and by also using and performing to the songs and compositions of several African American jazz artist throughout his career. One of the African American composers who wrote several compositions for Benny Goodman was Fletcher Henderson.

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Fletcher Henderson was a very successful commercial jazz artist in the 1920s. He was a pianist, arranger, composer, and bandleader and was an important figure in the production of big jazz bands and swing music which ultimately made him the uncrowned king of swing (NPR, 2007). He wrote several pieces of music for Benny Goodman which allowed Goodman to gain the title of “King of Swing”. This interaction with Fletcher Henderson can be seen as a step in the right direction to end the way in which many musicians see working with other musicians outside of their race and this shows how diversity never hindered or prevented Benny Goodman from creating amazing music with people outside of his race.

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Benny Goodman was also highly important in the integration of swing bands in the 1930s. This is due to the fact that in 1936, he hired Teddy Wilson to play piano in his trio group called the Benny Goodman Trio with prominent jazz drummer Gene Krupa (Biography.com Editors, 2017).

It’s widely regarded as the first time a black musician appeared on stage with a white band because during this time, having an integrated band was not just only seen as taboo, it was also regarded as illegal in some states (Verity, 2018). Jazz pianist Teddy Wilson recalls having an easy transition into Benny Goodman’s group and contrasted his transition to the transition of legendary baseball player Jackie Robinson’s. Wilson stated that he felt universally accepted during his transition which made it easier for him. He also claimed that the mixing and intermingling of the races was actually an asset to the group which allowed for the public to have an overwhelming amount of support towards the group as a whole. He went on to claim that “the public was so for the thing. Not one negative voice in any audience that we ever heard — just tremendous enthusiasm. The jazz fans were like — they were just hungry for this sort of thing.’ The amount of support that the group received from the joining of African American jazz artists and white jazz artist can be seen as being due to the high interest in swing music at the time, and the decreased interest in segregating bands. Goodman also added electric vibraphonist Lionel Hampton to the mix, and in 1939, the Goodman band also added an electric guitar played by another African-American, Charlie Christian to the band which was even more integration that the public was in favor of.

This crucial first step into the integration of African Americans and White jazz musicians by Benny Goodman demonstrated how color blind many musicians were especially when it came to producing good quality music. This important step was extremely necessary in order to change the mindsets of those who believed that the segregation of musicians based on skin color was appropriate and should be allowed. Through his contribution to the jazz community, Benny Goodman and swing music as a whole played an extremely large role in influencing Americans to embrace race neutrality and color-blindness to a great extent (Swing Street Radio, 2017).

He used his fame, and his platform to spread appreciation for African American music and he brought awareness to African American musicians to his predominately white audience which was almost unheard of during this racially unjust time in history. His acceptance of his fellow African American jazz artists and his ability to see past skin color differences in other musicians and just see the talent that they had been a very large factor in his success in society. While everyone did not agree with his integration, it definitely signaled a new age in America and showed positive progress in the end of segregation of musicians.

Work Cited

  • Biography.com Editors. “Benny Goodman.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 28 Apr. 2017, www.biography.com/people/benny-goodman-9315335.
  • “Fletcher Henderson: ‘Architect of Swing’.” NPR, NPR, 19 Dec. 2007, www.npr.org/2007/12/19/17370123/fletcher-henderson-architect-of-swing. Radio, Swing Street.
  • “Racial Barriers Broken By Swing & Big Band Musicians.” Medium.com, Medium, 7 Apr. 2017, http://medium.com/@radioswingstreet/racial-barriers-broken-by-swing-big-band-musicians-64d4cb5b2d2d.
  • Spellman, A. B., and Murray Horwitz. “Fletcher Henderson: ‘Ken Burns Jazz: Fletcher Henderson’.” NPR, NPR, 1 Aug. 2001, www.npr.org/2011/06/20/4543196/fletcher-henderson-ken-burns-jazz-fletcher-henderson.
  • Verity, Michael, and American Songbook. “How Jazz Helped Fuel the Civil Rights Movement.” Thoughtco., Dotdash, 2018, www.thoughtco.com/jazz-and-the-civil-rights-movement-2039542.
  • Vitale, Tom. “Benny Goodman: Forever The King Of Swing.” NPR, NPR, 30 May 2009, www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104713445.
  • Vitale, Tom. “How Benny Goodman Orchestrated ‘The Most Important Concert In Jazz History’.” NPR, NPR, 16 Jan. 2018, www.npr.org/2018/01/16/578312844/how-benny-goodman-orchestrated-the-most-important-concert-in-jazz-history.

Cite this page

Racial Diversity and Jazz Music. (2021, Oct 15). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/racial-diversity-and-jazz-music-essay

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