Written by: James W. Huston Published: December 29, 2014
What in the world do Chester Nimitz and Benny Goodman have in common? ¬†Nothing, as far as I know. ¬†But I’m currently reading the biography of Nimitz by E. B. Potter. ¬†Very well written and very well done. But he recounts how Nimitz got his start in the Navy. ¬†Nimitz grew up in Texas, and one day encountered two young men from West Point who looked sharp and seemed to be on their way to great adventures. ¬†He though he should go to West Point and join the army as a career rather than work in his grandfather’s hotel as a janitor all his life. ¬†He contacted his congressman who told him there was absolutely no chance of an appointment to West Point–there were too many forts in his district, and all the Army officers wanted their sons to go to West Point. ¬†Nimitz was very disappointed. ¬†Then the congressman said, “Well, I do have this appointment to the Naval Academy you could consider . . . ” ¬†Nimitz went to Annapolis and became one of the greatest admirals in American history. ¬†What if he had gone to West Point? ¬†Would he have been one of the greatest generals in American history?
And so it was with Benny Goodman. He grew up in Chicago, and one day his father decided to enroll him and two of his brothers in music lessons. ¬†He was the eighth of twelve children. ¬†He and his two brothers went to a local synagogue and music teacher, and the biggest brother, of course the first through the door and being the biggest and oldest, got a tuba. ¬†The second got a trumpet, and the smallest and youngest, Benny, got a clarinet. ¬†As Benny wondered later in life, what if he had been twenty pounds heavier and two inches taller? ¬†Would he have been the greatest tuba player ever, leading a band with a tuba? ¬†Or the greatest trumpet player if he had been second through the door? ¬†Same skills, different instrument?