segregation/integration in the NYC jazz scene

Beverly Flanigan flanigan at OAK.CATS.OHIOU.EDU
Thu Jan 11 18:27:53 UTC 2001

I believe the segment next Monday night is going to deal with Goodman, so
maybe the story will come out.  BTW, I'm thoroughly enjoying the "Jazz"
series, if only for the chance to hear two hours of jazz almost
non-stop--and despite the historical and lexical problems.  So I'd
recommend we cavil less and recognize the overall contribution of the show,
as when Wynton Marsalis movingly discussed the race issue the other
night.  I held my breath as he held his breath--and then he boldly plunged
in on the ugly reality of the times.

At 11:12 AM 1/11/01 -0600, you wrote:
>   This is a bit off-topic, but here goes.
>    I've heard several times on Ken Burns' "Jazz" series that there
>was strict segregation in the NYC jazz scene of the 1920's and '30's.
>There certainly was segregation, but Burns evidently overlooked Benny
>Goodman's interesting way of getting around it.
>     The reference is Henry Anton Steig,"Profiles: Alligators' Idol"
>(on Benny Goodman). _ New Yorker_, April 17, 1937, pp.27-34. (I
>mention this in my 1991 book _Origin of New York City's Nickname,
>"The Big Apple"_, p.95; the book, btw, does not yet contain Barry
>Popik's valuable research). Page 27 of Steig's article begins:
>    "Benny considers the colored outfits of Count Basie and Chick Webb
>'real swing bands,' which is the greatest compliment he can pay.  He
>has a high regard for colored musicians in general.  They are better
>natural swingmen than whites, and Benny would like his own to be a
>mixed one."
>    The article continues:
>    "The managers of most hotels and dance halls won't stand for a
>mixed band, however, and Benny gets around this rather neatly.  His
>official band--the men you see when the program starts--is all white,
>but the swing quartet, which plays special numbers and which has
>overshadowed the band in popularity, is half colored.  The colored
>pianist, Teddy Wilson, and the colored vibraphone player
>Lionel Hampton, just step onto the platform when they are ready to
>play in the band, and there have been no complaints.  Benny with his
>clarinet, and Gene Krupa with his drums, are two other members of the
>    I don't have Steig's article in front of me, but if I remember
>right, the band's final number would be played by only the white
>musicians. So, as long as the beginning and end of the program were
>played by whites, the middle of the program could be integrated
>without producing any problems.
>---Gerald Cohen

Beverly Olson Flanigan         Department of Linguistics
Ohio University                     Athens, OH  45701
Ph.: (740) 593-4568              Fax: (740) 593-2967

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