Goodman King of Swing?

Benny Goodman is often referred to as the “King of Swing”. He was a clarinetist and leader of the famous Benny Goodman orchestra which was one of the driving groups behind the swing craze of the early 1900s. Swing was a popular genre that was derivative of previous styles of New Orleans Jazz, borrowing elements such as off-beat emphasis, and chromatic harmonization 1. Swing was a wildly commercially successful genre but despite its economic success, there’s skepticism that the most responsible musicians were fairly compensated. The commercial success of the genre often manifested in radio and record producers being the agents with the most power, and ultimately perpetuating a system of segregation and oppression 2.

Moonlight Serenade, Glenn Miller, Johns Hopkins Sheridan Libraries, Lester S Levy Sheet Music Collection

The other result of swing was that band leaders often became the celebrities associated with the music, with artists such as Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller becoming widely known 3. Their visibility and the power of radio and record producers led to a wide disparity in success in a genre that owed its roots to Black artists. Between 1935 and 1945 the four most popular big bands led by white musicians… racked up a total of 292 Top 10 records, of which 65 were number one hits. In contrast, the four most popular Black swing orchestras scored only thirty-two top hits, three of which made it to number one on the charts. The dominance of these white musicians provides another example of the co-opting of African American music to the financial benefit of white parties.

Early, Gerald. “Jazz and the African American Literary Tradition, Freedom’s Story,.” TeacherServe®, National Humanities Center, Accessed 11 Oct. 2023.

Saleh, Leena. “The Swing Era: A Time of Hidden (Beauty and Limited) Oppression.” AOT, 26 June 2021,

Vitale, Tom. “Benny Goodman: Forever the King of Swing.” NPR, NPR, 30 May 2009,