Wednesday, February 03, 2010

William, Cornelius, John, and Benny

Last post, I said Minnie got into the DAR on the strength of Thomas Lennington's soldiering against our colonial overlords in Britain. I've continued to snoop around our family linkages and find that the families connected with Thomas's daughter Abby served on the British side as well as the colonial. Some also sat the war out and others pacifistically refused to get involved (they were Quakers).

I said I was proud of my ancestor, William Thorne, who put himself and his family at great risk by signing the Flushing Remonstrance just as a matter of principal, having nothing personal to gain by that heroic act. Further research shows that our family is connected with that ancestor in two direct lines, two of his children having produced families that eventually joined together in the one that produced a great-, great-grandmother of mine.

I haven't found any other family stories quite so dramatic or worthy of praise as William Thorne's, but quite by accident I did notice that two branches of the family merged into the hyper-wealthy Vanderbilts of the nineteenth century's gilded age. Cornelius Vanderbilt, who masterminded the family fortune,* had a son, William Henry, who married Maria Louisa Kissam who was a seventh generation descendant from the great William and his wife Sarah; and he had a daughter, Emily Almira, who married William Knapp Thorne; he was also seven generations descended from William and Sarah. (She came from a line beginning with William's daughter Susannah and he via son John.) I've written about some Vanderbilts in an earlier post.

More interesting, to me anyway, are connections to the great John Hammond and Benny Goodman, both via the Commodore's grand-daughter, Emily Thorn Vanderbilt.

Hammond was in the music business. He discovered, encouraged, and recorded musicians of great talent, particularly African American blues artists and jazz innovators. As wikipedia says, "Hammond was instrumental in sparking or furthering numerous musical careers, including those of Benny Goodman, Charlie Christian, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Teddy Wilson, Big Joe Turner, Pete Seeger, Babatunde Olatunji, Aretha Franklin, George Benson, Bob Dylan, Freddie Green, Leonard Cohen, Bruce Springsteen, Arthur Russell, Asha Puthli and Stevie Ray Vaughan." His step-daughter was a college classmate of mine.

I didn't appreciate the excellence of Benny Goodman when I was young; he seemed too respectable, too polished, too bobby soxy. Later, I discovered his wonderful small-group work and learned to appreciate the big sound as well. I also found out that he broke the racial barrier by putting black musicians in his groups. As wikipedia says, "This integration in music happened ten years before Jackie Robinson became the first black American to enter Major League Baseball. '[Goodman's] popularity was such that he could remain financially viable without touring the South, where he would have been subject to arrest for violating Jim Crow laws.' According to Jazz by Ken Burns, when someone asked him why he 'played with that nigger' (referring to Teddy Wilson), Goodman replied, 'I'll knock you out if you use that word around me again'."

Here are links an interactive genealogical charts showing family interrelationships.**

1. William Thorne, signer of the Flushing Remonstrance.

2. The Vanderbilt connection via Emily Almira.

3. The Vanderbilt connection via William Henry.

4. The connection to John Hammond

5. The connection to Benny Goodman

{The Commodore}

{William Henry Vanderbilt}

{John Hammond}

{Benny in quartet in 1941}



* A book about Cornelius won the National Book Award last year: The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T. J. Stiles (Random House, Inc., 2009).

A smattering of reviews and the NBA announcement:
** You can click and drag to move around in these interactive charts. Hover your cursor close to one of the boxes; it will change from a pointer to a quad-arrow (or some other similar snazzy thing). When you see the quad arrow, you can left click and drag the chart view to left or right. If you do a single left click on a name, you'll see some basic data about the person. If you click the name in the pop-up box, you can see the full record for that person.

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