Kid Lit Review of “Benny Goodman & Teddy Wilson” by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Subtitled “Taking the Stage as the First Black-and-White Jazz Band in History,” this book tells the story of how Teddy Wilson and Benny Goodman broke the color barrier in entertainment when, along with Gene Krupa, they formed the Benny Goodman Trio.

Jacket Benny Goodman & Teddy Wilson Holiday House

The story alternates between the childhoods of Wilson, a young black boy growing up in Tuskegee, Alabama, and Goodman, the son of struggling Russian-Jewish immigrants from the West Side of Chicago. The text explains how they each fell in love with music and studied and practiced and played whenever they could. Race divided their experiences however:

“Benny’s clarinet blew
Into town/West Side, SouthSide, downtown
And out again
All sweet
All dance
All white
All the way to New York”

Teddy tickled the keys in Texas
In Nebraska
in Louisiana
All hot
All rhythm
All black
All the way to New York”

When the two met in jam sessions and recording sessions in New York, they found they loved to play together. Goodman said “We were thinking with the same brain”:

“It wasn’t soft
It wasn’t black
It wasn’t sweet
It wasn’t white
It was swing.”

Benny Goodman and Teddy Wilson 1938

Benny Goodman and Teddy Wilson 1938

They decided to play together in public, getting Gene Krupa to join them on drums – “the three of us, as if we had been born to play this way.”

Later they were joined by Lionel Hampton on vibraphone and they became a quartet. They performed in public for the first time as an interracial band in 1939 at the Congress Hotel in Chicago, Illinois. Audiences loved them:

“they blew
they tapped
they banged
they strummed
The stage was hot
The dance floor was hotter
The music was hottest.”

An extended section at the end of the book provides more background on Benny Goodman and Teddy Wilson, a time line, and a “Who’s Who” in jazz.

There are so many great videos available of these musicians on Youtube. You can see each of the quartet member’s skills featured serially – first Hampton, then Wilson, then Goodman, then Krupa, in this short but amazing 1937 recording:

But if you really want the full impact, watch this longer recording of their Carnegie Hall performance of “Sing Sing Sing” in 1938:

The watercolor illustrations by James E. Ransome almost seem alive, as if the music is really playing and the dancers are really moving.

Evaluation: This book not only introduces children to some great musicians, but shows that the passions and joy we can share by working together is so much more powerful and productive than the superficial things that divide us.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Holiday House, 2014

L-R:Lionel Hampton, Benny Goodman and Teddy Wilson. Photo by John W. Mosley, courtesy Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries

L-R:Lionel Hampton, Benny Goodman and Teddy Wilson. Photo by John W. Mosley, courtesy Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Temple University Libraries

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2 Responses to Kid Lit Review of “Benny Goodman & Teddy Wilson” by Lesa Cline-Ransome

  1. BermudaOnion says:

    Wow, I wonder why I’ve never read about this before. I want to read this book!

  2. Rachel says:

    I’m not a big jazz fan so I didn’t know about this trio. Sounds like a great book!

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