Benny Goodman – Signing in at the Madhattan Room

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On a chilly evening during the first quarter of 1937, a privileged fan (perhaps a Camel Cigarettes executive) went to see Benny Goodman and his great swing band at the Madhattan Room in New York’s Pennsylvania Hotel. I say privileged since he acquired a lovely presentation copy of the restaurant’s menu, neatly autographed by every member of the band, plus a few ringers.

All except Benny signed in fountain pen, which was a pain to do on location. Most musicians’ autographs collected in those days were in pencil, since pens were liable to leak. Hymie Shertzer formally signed his first name as “Herman” and Ziggy Elman went for the less elegant “Ziggie.”

With the addition of Harry James in January, this was the classic configuration of the Goodman band that would remain intact for most of the year. As the newest member, perhaps it’s fitting that Harry signed his name in smaller letters than the others?

The musicians' view from the Madhattan Room bandstand.

The musicians’ view from the Madhattan Room bandstand.

The Madhattan Room would be the band’s continuous New York gig from the fall of 1936 to the spring of 1937 and again later in 1937-38. They were there during several of Goodman’s most sensational appearances, at the Paramount Theater and Carnegie Hall. Between their weekly Camel Caravan broadcasts and constant live remotes from Madhattan, eager fans nationwide could listen in to the band almost nightly.

Frances Hunt

Frances Hunt

Vocalist Frances Hunt was an interim singer, heard only on one Goodman record during her 4-month stay. After original vocalist Helen Ward left in December 1936, it wasn’t until August 1937 that Benny chose Martha Tilton as a permanent replacement. Frances, Peg LaCentra and Betty Van filled those open months, but were rarely heard on record if at all, since the band was on a recording hiatus from February through July 1937

The King of Swing greets his subjects.

The King of Swing greets his subjects.

Our next “signature” posting will feature a later edition of Benny’s band!