Roger Goeb was born in Cherokee, Iowa. Although he had studied piano, trumpet, French horn, viola, violin, and woodwind instruments from an early age (Kozinn 1997), he turned to the profession of music comparatively late. He studied agriculture at the University of Wisconsin (which twenty years later would be called University of Wisconsin–Madison), earning a BS degree in 1936. He then earned his living for two years playing in jazz bands before going to Paris to study composition at the Ecole Normale de Musique with Nadia Boulanger (1938–39). Returning to the United States he studied composition privately with Otto Luening, followed by graduate work, first at New York University, and then at the Cleveland Institute with Herbert Elwell, where he earned a Master of Music degree in 1942. Three years later, he gained a PhD at the University of Iowa with his Symphony No. 2 as a dissertation. After teaching stints at Bard College, the Juilliard School, Stanford University, and Adelphi College, he was awarded two successive Guggenheim fellowships in 1950–51 and 1951–52 (Barkin 2001).
From the late 1940s until the mid-1960s, Goeb composed instrumental music prolifically, and his music was well received (Kozinn 1997). His Third Symphony was premiered on October 28, 1952 by Leopold Stokowski and the CBS Orchestra, who recorded it two days later for RCA Victor (Malsky 2003, 249). In 1964, however, he gave up composing for more than ten years, because of family illnesses. His wife and his son eventually both died from multiple sclerosis, after which he began composing again, composing 25 more works until a stroke in 1986 curtailed his activities. He died on January 3, 1997 at the Parker Jewish Geriatric Institute in Queens, NY (Kozinn 1997).
His music economically projects clear lines and formal designs. He did not orchestrate, but rather composed directly for instruments. Though he used familiar pitch combinations, he was able always to make them sound fresh and novel (Barkin 2001).