October 15, 2019
Goodman was the ninth of twelve children born to poor Jewish emigrants from the Russian Empire. His father, David Goodman (1873–1926), came to America in 1892 from Warsaw in partitioned Poland and became a tailor. His mother, Dora Grisinsky, (1873–1964), came from Kovno. They met in Baltimore, Maryland, and moved to Chicago before Goodman’s birth. With little income and a large family, they moved to the Maxwell Street neighborhood, an overcrowded slum near railroad yards and factories that was populated by German, Irish, Italian, Polish, Scandinavian, and Jewish immigrants.
Money was a constant problem. On Sundays, his father took the children to free band concerts in Douglas Park, which was the first time Goodman experienced live professional performances. To give his children some skills and an appreciation for music, his father enrolled ten-year-old Goodman and two of his brothers in music lessons at the Kehelah Jacob Synagogue. During the next year Goodman joined the boys club band at Hull House, where he received lessons from director James Sylvester. By joining the band, he was entitled to spend two weeks at a summer camp near Chicago. It was the only time he could get away from his bleak neighborhood.
He received two years of instruction from classically trained clarinetist Franz Schoepp. He attended the Lewis Institute (Illinois Institute of Technology) in 1924 as a high-school sophomore and played clarinet in a dance hall band.