Benjamin David Goodman was born on May 30th, 1909, in Chicago, Illinois. He was the ninth of twelve children born from the poor Jewish couple David Goodman and Dora Grisinsky. Benny formally studied music at the famed Hull House, and by the age of 10 was a skilled clarinetist. At the age of 13, Benny's father enrolled him and two of his older brothers in music lessons at the Kehelah Jacob Synagogue. His early influences were New Orleans jazz clarinetists working in Chicago, notably Johnny Dodds, Leon Roppolo, and Jimmy Noone. Benny learned quickly and became a strong player at an early age. He was soon playing professionally while still 'in short pants', playing clarinet in various bands and participating in jam sessions with musicians of the Chicago scene, including Bud Freeman and Red Nichols.
When Benny hit 16 he was recognized as a "comer" as far away as the west coast and was asked to join a California-based band led by another Chicago boy, Ben Pollack. Benny played with Pollack's band for the next four years. His earliest recording was made with Pollack, but he was also recording under his own name in Chicago and New York, where the band had migrated from the west coast. In 1929, when he was 20, Benny struck out on his own to become a typical New York freelance musician, playing studio dates, leading a pit orchestra, making himself a seasoned professional.
Benny's father, David, was a working-class immigrant about whom Benny said "...Pop worked in the stockyard, shoveling lard in its unrefined state. He had those boots, and he'd come home at the end of the day exhausted, stinking to high heaven, and when he walked in it made me sick. I couldn't stand it. I couldn't stand the idea of Pop every day standing in that stuff, shoveling it around". On December 9th, 1926, Benny's father David was killed in a car crash. The death was a bitter blow to the family and it haunted Benny that his father had not lived to see all his success.