A Journey Back Through Time―The Great Depression & Benny Goodman
A Fictional Story
Last year, my United States' history teacher asked us to write a piece of literature resembeling aspects of the Great Depression. I think that writing a facts-filled paper will make such a significant issue seem tritely over-repetitive. Therefore, I decided to research a famous figure through that time, Benny Goodman, and write a fictional diary entry from his point of view. Please note that Benny Goodman did live through the depression's era, however, not all details are true. Enjoy!
January 17, 1937
Life during the Great Depression was certainly horrible for us as it were to many others during that time. Even though, we are the great great grandchildren of the notable Cornelius Van Der Bilt, the richest man greatly known for his genius in shipping and railroads, we never felt unaffected by the Great Depression. Since I was five, I remember we lived in a big mansion where servants were under our commands and wishes. However, about 3 months after the depression struck, dad got very ill and died. After that, we had to move to a house that was much smaller, but capable enough to fit 12 kids. The new house we moved to suddenly made us feel packed, especially since we had to share rooms. The depression affected us greatly; first, we moved to a smaller house and got jumbled up in smaller rooms. Second, after dad's tragic death, the first action I did was quiting school. Sadly, our life in Chicago during the depression was a nightmare. Chicago was buffeted greatly with the depression since it had a heavy reliance on manufacturing. The only gift that saved my life was my exceptional talent as a musician.
At 15 years of age, my school mate Dave Tough and I were both into music. Our plan was to stand in streets and play our instruments just to get enough money to sustain a living. Sometimes we made little money, while most times we didn't. Everyone in my family had to work in order for us to live. My mother, for example, started cleaning rich people's houses during the day and she would spend her night sowing clothes. Sometimes, when jobs were not available for mom, she would stand in breadlines waiting and waiting and many times, her long waits gained her nothing.
Nothing changed until one afternoon, Ben Pollack (the "father of Swing") hired me to work for him in LA. I was very elated to hear such news. I worked for him for a couple of years, then when the depression get even worse, I headed to New York to work on recordings and radio shows. I joined Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey at the studios in 1933 and worked with the jazz promoter John Hammond and drummer Gene Krupa. I was making some money, but not enough to support my poor mother with 11 of my siblings. Mom was able to sustain living mainly through the Works Progress Administration, one of the New Deal programs. Along with the money I sent from New York, the WPA was the largest and most ambitious program that fed children and redistributed food, clothing, and housing. It employed millions to carry out public projects, including the construction of public buildings, roads, and parks. My brothers in Chicago were employed by this outstanding program and were able to help me with house expenses.
Unfortunately, not long before the depression ended, mom died. Since I wasn't home with her, I didn't witness the causes of her death, but my brothers told me that she was saving food for the younger ones while she worked day and night to keep them alive. My life felt worthless without mom. I had no one to send me uplifting letters like she did. I didn't have anyone to witness my success as much as she did. There was no more of "I'm proud of my Benny boy," letters, hugs, and spirit lifting. After her death and not long before the viral depression ended, I composed a band and became the first jazz band in history to play in Carnegie Hall in New York. From that point on, I wasn't the little boy who played his instrument in the streets, I was "the king of Swing," Benny Goodman.