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Black History Month: Charlie Christian

By Howard B. Owens

Charlie Christian is generally regarded as the first electric guitarist in a band.

John Hammond discovered Christian and brought him to Benny Goodman.

Goodman wasn't sold on an electric guitar as a lead instrument in a band, and Christian came to his audition dressed flashy.

The band jammed on a few songs and Goodman still wasn't impressed. He called out Rose Room, figuring the song would leave Christian in the dust. But Christian knew the song well and launched into an hour-long jam.

Goodman signed him.

Goodman was a leader in the Jim Crow era in racial integration. Among his band members, besides Christian, were vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, and pianist Teddy Wilson.

In Harlem, Christian joined in with the likes of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillispie and helped invent a new style of jazz, Be Bop.

He was only 25 when he died of tuberculosis in 1942. He is among the most influential guitarists in history.

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