Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Goldkette, Jean

Throughout the 1920s, Detroit was a major center of jazz creativity and talent. One of the men who shaped the jazz scene in the city was Jean Goldkette. Goldkette was born in 1893 into a performing family in Europe, and trained as a classical pianist. He immigrated to the United States as a teenager, and made his way to Detroit in 1916. Goldkette concentrated his talents on managing dance bands and dance venues, becoming the most famous band leader in Detroit.

When Goldkette arrived in Detroit, the city was exploding with the success of the automobile business. Beginning as the musical director of the Detroit Athletic Club, Goldkette became immersed in the early jazz scene. Jean Goldkette and his Orchestra was one of the nation’s premier live ensembles, besting the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra in a grand ‘battle of the bands’ at the Roseland Theater in New York in 1927. Among the musicians in Goldkette’s band were Bix Biederbecke, Frankie Trumbauer, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, and Joe Venuti.

Over the years, Goldkette managed 20 different touring ensembles, including the Eskimo Pie Orchestra, the Orange Blossoms (later known as the Casa Loma Orchestra), the Book-Cadillac Hotel Orchestra and McKinney’s Cotton Pickers. The latter, one of the era’s premier African American jazz groups, included such greats as Benny Carter, Doc Cheatham, and Don Redman. Several of these bands were recorded on various RCA labels, and Goldkette directed the Victor Recording Orchestra.

As owner of the Graystone Ballroom, Jean Goldkette brought other national jazz performers to Detroit, making it one of the finest big band venues on the continent. However, by the early 1930s the Great Depression took its toll on the entertainment industry, and Goldkette filed for bankruptcy. Many of his musicians found work with other bands (particularly Paul Whiteman’s), or bands found new managers. Goldkette returned to his classical roots, and performed as a pianist for the remainder of his career. He moved to California in 1961 and died there the following year.



Production still featuring the Studebaker Champions Orchestra, 1930 – 2012.032.013

“Song of Detroit” Sheet Music by Jean Goldkette, c.1951 – 2012.021.156

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