Charlie Christian (29 July 1916 – 2 March 1942) was an American jazz guitarist and an innovator in the field of electric guitar.
Chistian was born in Bonham, Texas, USA and was raised in Oklahoma. In the late 1930s, he came to the attention of record producer John Hammond, who introduced Christian to bandleader Benny Goodman. Goodman hired Christian to play with the Goodman Sextet starting in 1939. Goodman was initially reluctant to hire Christian, due in part to the fact that electric guitar was a relatively new instrument; however, Goodman was so impressed by Christian's playing that he changed his mind.
The story of their meeting on August 16, 1939 is notable: an encounter that afternoon at the recording studio had not gone well, but Hammond decided to try again: without consulting Goodman, he installed Christian on the bandstand for that night's set at the Victor Hugo restaurant in Los Angeles. Displeased at the surprise, Goodman called "Rose Room", a tune he assumed that Christian would be unfamiliar with. After listening to the changes a couple of times, Christian came in with his solo — which was to be the first of about twenty, all of them different, all unlike anything Goodman had heard before. That version of "Rose Room" lasted forty minutes; by its end, Christian was in the band.
Christian was influenced by early acoustic guitarists like jazzman Eddie Lang and bluesman Lonnie Johnson, both of whom expanded the guitar's role as a "rhythm section" instrument by using the guitar as a solo instrument. Christian was the first great soloist on the amplified guitar.
Christian paved the way for the modern electric guitar sound that was followed by other pioneers, including T-Bone Walker, Les Paul, Wes Montgomery, B.B. King and Jimi Hendrix. For this reason Christian was inducted in 1990 into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an "Early Influence."
Though known mainly for his influence on electric guitar, Christian was also an important developer of bebop. His contributions at jam sessions at Minton's Playhouse in New York City were landmarks in the evolution from the then-popular, radio-friendly, accessible swing music to the more experimental bebop. This transition is readily apparent in recordings the Goodman Sextet made on one particular day. With Goodman absent, Christian and the rest of the Sextet recorded "Blues in B" and "Waiting for Benny", which were basically bop jam sessions. The free flow of these sessions contrasts with the more formal swing music recorded after Goodman had arrived at the studio.
Christian contracted tuberculosis and pneumonia, and died at the age of 25.