Glenn Miller

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Glenn Miller
Glenn Miller
Glenn Miller
Background information
Birth nameAlton Glenn Miller
Born(1904-03-01)March 1, 1904
Clarinda, Iowa, United States
DiedDecember 15, 1944(1944-12-15) (aged 40)
Plane missing over the English Channel
GenresSwing music, big band
Occupation(s)Bandleader, Musician, Arranger, Composer
Years active1923–1944

Alton Glenn Miller (March 1, 1904 – missing in action[1] December 15, 1944) was an American big band musician, arranger, composer, and bandleader in the swing era. He was the best-selling recording artist from 1939 to 1943, leading one of the best known big bands. Miller's notable recordings include "In the Mood", "Moonlight Serenade", "Pennsylvania 6-5000", "Chattanooga Choo Choo", "A String of Pearls", "At Last", "(I've Got a Gal In) Kalamazoo", "American Patrol", "Tuxedo Junction", "Elmer's Tune", and "Little Brown Jug".[2] During World War II, he led bands in the U.S. Army. While he was traveling in France during World War II, Glenn Miller's airplane disappeared over the English Channel.

Early life and career[change | change source]

Miller was born in Clarinda, Iowa. His parents were Mattie Lou (née Cavender) and Lewis Elmer Miller.[3] In 1915, Miller's family moved to Grant City, Missouri, and he started playing in the town orchestra. At first, he played cornet and mandolin, but he switched to trombone by 1916.[4] In 1918, the Miller family moved to Fort Morgan, Colorado, where Miller went to high school. During his senior year, he started a band with some classmates. They played "dance band music". By the time Miller graduated from high school in 1921, he had decided to become a professional musician.[3]

In 1923, Miller entered the University of Colorado at Boulder, but he spent most of his time away from school. He played auditions and gigs. He did not do well in school. He dropped out of school, and decided to start a career as a professional musician. He later studied under Joseph Schillinger and composed "Moonlight Serenade".[5] In 1926, Miller toured with several groups, eventually landing a good spot in Ben Pollack's group in Los Angeles.[6] While playing with this band, Miller wrote several musical arrangements and also co-wrote his first composition, "Room 1411", with Benny Goodman.[7] In 1928, he married Helen Burger in New York City. At first, he was the main trombone soloist of the band. But when another trombone player joined, Miller was given fewer solos. At this point, he decided he should mainly be a composer.[4] In the late 1920s, he wrote and published a songbook.[8]

In the early 1930s, Miller was a trombonist, arranger, and composer in The Dorsey Brothers.[9] Miller composed the songs "Annie's Cousin Fannie",[10][11] "Dese Dem Dose",[9][12] "Harlem Chapel Chimes", and "Tomorrow's Another Day" in 1934 and 1935. In 1935, he started an American orchestra for British bandleader Ray Noble.[9] In this band, he featured a lead clarinet over four saxophones. He later used this arrangement in his own bands.

Glenn Miller formed his first band in 1937. The band broke up after playing its last show at the Ritz Ballroom in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on January 2, 1938.[13]

Success from 1938 to 1942[change | change source]

Miller was discouraged and returned to New York. He realized that the band needed to have a "sound" that was different from other bands. He decided to make the clarinet and tenor saxophone play the melody together, while three other saxophones played harmony. Miller hired a saxophonist named Wilbur Schwartz, but instead had him play lead clarinet. This was unique because it did not rely on repeated motifs, like other bands.[14]

Miller had a staff who wrote and arranged songs for the band. They were Jerry Gray,[15] Bill Finegan,[16] Billy May,[17] and George Williams.[18]

Bluebird Records and Glen Island Casino[change | change source]

In September 1938, the Miller band began making recordings for Bluebird Records.[19] Cy Shribman, a prominent East Coast businessman, began financing the band.[20] In the spring of 1939, the band played at the Meadowbrook Ballroom in Cedar Grove, New Jersey and at the Glen Island Casino in New Rochelle, New York. At Glen Island, 1800 people attended[21] Afterwards, the band became much more popular.[22] The band's recording "Tuxedo Junction" sold 115,000 copies in the first week.[23]

On February 10, 1942, Miller received a gold record for "Chattanooga Choo-Choo".[24] "Chattanooga Choo Choo" was performed by the Miller orchestra with his singers Gordon "Tex" Beneke, Paula Kelly and the vocal group, the Modernaires.[25] Other singers with this orchestra included Marion Hutton,[26] Skip Nelson,[27] Ray Eberle,[28] Kay Starr,[29] Ernie Caceres,[30] Dorothy Claire[31] and Jack Lathrop.[32]

Motion pictures[change | change source]

Miller and his band appeared in two films. The first one was Sun Valley Serenade (1941)[33] The second was Orchestra Wives (1942).[34]

Army Air Force Band: 1942–1944[change | change source]

Bust outside the Corn Exchange in Bedford, where Miller played in World War II.

In 1942, Miller decided to join the war effort because he was too old to be drafted.[35] At first, he volunteered for the Navy but was told he was not needed.[36] Miller then wrote to Army Brigadier General Charles Young. He asked to lead an army band so he could entertain the Allied Forces, and was accepted this time.[3] He earned the rank of captain and he was soon promoted to major by August 1944.[6]

He was placed in the United States Army at first, but was then moved to the Army Air Forces.[37] Captain Glenn Miller served as an officer at the training center at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, in December 1942. He played trombone with the Rhythmaires, a 15-piece dance band, both on the base and in the town.

Miller formed a large marching band. He tried to modernize military music. Some officers didn't like it, but he continued because other leaders supported him. For example, he combined blues and jazz with the traditional military march.[38] He formed the Army Air Force Band, with 50 members. In the summer of 1944, he took it to England, where he gave 800 performances[39] and recorded a series of records. The music was used in American Forces Network radio broadcasting for entertainment and counter-propaganda against fascism. Miller also talked on the radio. One time, he said:

"America means freedom and there's no expression of freedom quite so sincere as music."[40][41]

Disappearance[change | change source]

U.S. Army Air Force UC-64
Miller's monument in Grove Street Cemetery, New Haven, Connecticut

On December 15, 1944, Miller was to fly from the United Kingdom to Paris, France, to play for the soldiers there. His plane departed from Clapham and disappeared while flying over the English Channel.[42] There were two other people on the plane: Lt. Col. Norman Baessell and pilot John Morgan.

There have been many theories about what happened to the plane. According to a 2014 article in the Chicago Tribune, Miller's plane crashed because it had a faulty carburetor.[43]

In February 1945, Miller's wife, Helen accepted the Bronze Star Medal for him.[44]

Legacy[change | change source]

Civilian band legacy[change | change source]

When Glenn Miller was alive, various bandleaders like Bob Chester imitated his style.[45] In 1942, Miller gave singer Mel Tormé advice about songwriting.[46]

By the early 1950s, more bands started to copy Miller's style.[47][48][49]

The Miller estate authorized an official Glenn Miller "ghost band" in 1946. This band was led by Tex Beneke, former tenor saxophonist and a singer for the civilian band. It was similar to the Army Air Force Band because it had a large string section.[50] At first called the "Glenn Miller Orchestra Under the Direction of Tex Beneke", it later became "The Tex Beneke Orchestra".

A film about Miller's life, The Glenn Miller Story, was released in 1953.[51] Because of this, the Miller estate asked Ray McKinley to lead a new ghost band in 1956.[52] This band still tours the United States.[53]

Army Air Force band legacy[change | change source]

After Miller's disappearance, his Army Air Force band was decommissioned and sent back to the United States. Another band, called "the 314", took its place.[54]

Compositions[change | change source]

Miller composed at least fourteen songs, both by himself or with other people. He added lyrics to another song. These and other songs were recorded by Miller's civilian bands and his Army Air Force band.

Grammy Hall of Fame[change | change source]

Glenn Miller had three recordings that were put into the Grammy Hall of Fame after he died. This award is for recordings that are at least 25 years old and that have "qualitative or historical significance."

Glenn Miller: Grammy Hall of Fame Awards[55]
Year Recorded Title Genre Label Year Inducted Notes
1939 "Moonlight Serenade" Jazz (single) RCA Bluebird 1991
1941 "Chattanooga Choo Choo" Jazz (single) RCA Bluebird 1996
1939 "In the Mood" Jazz (single) RCA Bluebird 1983

Related pages[change | change source]

References[change | change source]


  1. The website for Arlington National Cemetery refers to Glenn Miller as "missing in action since Dec. 15, 1944" see "Major Glenn Miller" Archived 2015-09-23 at the Wayback Machine, Arlington National Cemetery by Kathryn Shenkle. accessdate March 2012.
  2. Glenn Miller had 23 number one records and 72 top ten hits from 1939 to 1943; see "Song artist 6 - Glenn Miller", Tsort, accessdate March 2012, more than Elvis Presley (18 No. 1s, 38 top 10s) and The Beatles (20 No. 1s, 33 top 10s) had in their careers. See "The Glenn Miller story", See "Overview of Achievements", Elvis Presley Enterprises inc. accessdate September 9, 2011.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Glenn Miller History". Glenn Miller Birthplace Society. Archived from the original on May 13, 2011. Retrieved March 8, 2011.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Yanow, Scott. Classic Jazz. San Francisco: Backbeat, 2001. Print.
  5. ""Who Is Joseph Schillinger?"". Archived from the original on February 19, 2009. Retrieved December 6, 2015., The Schillinger System.
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Glenn Miller Biography - Music Artist Band Biographies - Artists Bands Bio - Free MP3 Downloads". Archived from the original on May 12, 2013. Retrieved December 18, 2012.
  7. "Benny Goodman's Boys" Archived 2016-01-15 at the Wayback Machine, Red Hot Jazz.
  8. Metronome, 1928, Volume 44, Page 42.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Simon (1980), pp. 65–66.
  10. Simon (1980), p. 9.
  11. "Annie's Cousin Fanny" was recorded for Decca and Brunswick, a total of three times. The Brunswick release is catalogued Brunswick 6938, and one of the Decca recordings is catalogued Decca 117-A. These recordings are from the summer of 1934. See the website "Dorsey Brothers Orchestra" Archived 2019-01-26 at the Wayback Machine, for more information about dates
  12. "Dese Dem Dose" was recorded February 6, 1935 and released on the Decca label. For more information and where the preceding sentence was taken from, see "Dorsey Brothers Orchestra" Archived 2019-01-26 at the Wayback Machine,
  13. George Thomas Simon, Glenn Miller and His Orchestra, New York: Crowell, 1974, ISBN 978-0-690-00470-0, p. 105[permanent dead link].
  14. Simon, George T. (1971). Simon Says: The Sights and Sounds of the Swing Era. New York: Galahad Books. p. 491. ISBN 0-88365-001-0.[permanent dead link]
  15. "Jerry Gray", Big Band Library. Retrieved on July 29, 2011.
  16. All About Jazz. "Bill Finegan Arranger for Dorsey, Miller Bands Dies". Retrieved December 18, 2012.
  17. Augustand, Melissa (February 2, 2004). "Died. Billy May, 87". Time. Archived from the original on August 17, 2013. Retrieved December 6, 2015.
  18. "George Williams, Musical Arranger, 71". The New York Times. Associated Press. April 21, 1988. Retrieved November 1, 2014.
  19. Simon (1980), p. 143.
  20. Twomey Archived 2014-10-26 at the Wayback Machine, Retrieved on July 29, 2011.
  21. Schuller, Gunther (1991). The swing era: the development of jazz, 1930–1945. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 667. ISBN 0-19-507140-9.
  22. Simon (1980), p. 170.
  23. Retrieved on July 29, 2011.
  24. Miller, Glenn, A Legendary Performer, RCA, 1939/1991.
  25. "Band Bio" Archived 2015-12-24 at the Wayback Machine, The Modernaires (October 20, 2000). Retrieved on July 29, 2011.
  26. "Marion Hutton, 67, Vocalist With Glenn Miller Orchestra". The New York Times. January 12, 1987. p. 1. Retrieved May 3, 2010.
  27. Glenn Miller » Biography Archived 2008-12-01 at the Wayback Machine, Legacy Recordings (copyright 2011). Retrieved on July 29, 2011.
  28. "Ray Eberle" Archived 2011-09-25 at the Wayback Machine, Solid!.
  29. Kay Starr Biography, Retrieved on July 29, 2011.
  30. Ernie Caceres Archived 2008-06-07 at the Wayback Machine, Retrieved on July 29, 2011.
  31. Solid! – Dorothy Claire Archived 2008-05-11 at the Wayback Machine, Retrieved on July 29, 2011.
  32. Liner notes to RCA Vi LPT 6701 Archived 2017-02-01 at the Wayback Machine, also see "Moonlight Serenade" by John Flower. (PDF). Retrieved on July 29, 2011.
  33. Sun Valley Serenade (1941), Internet Movie Database.
  34. Orchestra Wives (1942), Internet Movie Database.
  35. "Glenn Miller (1904 - 1944)". BBC News. 2002. Archived from the original on November 9, 2014. Retrieved November 8, 2014.
  36. Simon (1980), pp. 309–310.
  37. Simon (1980), p. 324.
  38. "War Two: The Stars Wore Stripes" Archived 2009-01-04 at the Wayback Machine, Retrieved on July 29, 2011.
  39. They Served Here: Thirty-Three Maxwell Men Archived 2009-07-04 at the Wayback Machine, "Glenn Miller", pp. 37–38. Benton, Jeffrey C. (1999). Air University Press.
  40. Kater, Michael (2003) [1992]. Different Drummers: Jazz in the Culture of Nazi Germany. US: Oxford University Press. p. 173. ISBN 978-0-19-516553-1.
  41. Erenberg, Lewis (1999). Swingin' the Dream: Big Band Jazz and the Rebirth of American Culture. US: University Of Chicago Press. p. 191. ISBN 978-0-226-21517-4.
  42. Butcher, pp. 203–205.
  43. Reich, Howard. "'History Detectives' explains why bandleader Glenn Miller vanished" Chicago Tribune (July 7, 2014)
  44. Simon (1980), p. 433.
  45. Solid!, Bob Chester biography/filmography Archived 2007-02-08 at the Wayback Machine, (March 20, 1908). Retrieved on July 29, 2011.
  46. Torme, Mel (1988). It Wasn't All Velvet. New York: Penguin. pp. 42–44. ISBN 0-86051-571-0.
  47. Ralph Flanagan, Retrieved on July 29, 2011.
  48. "Jerry Gray", Retrieved on July 29, 2011.
  49. Solid!, Ray Anthony biography/filmography Archived 2006-12-14 at the Wayback Machine, (January 20, 1922). Retrieved on July 29, 2011.
  50. Simon (1980), pp. 437–39.
  51. The Glenn Miller Story (1953) on IMDb
  52. Butcher, page 263
  53. "Ray McKinley", Drummerworld.
  54. Bennett, Tony (1998). The Good Life. New York: Pocket Books. p. 312. ISBN 0-671-02469-8.
  55. Grammy Hall of Fame Database Archived 2011-08-29 at the Wayback Machine.


Other websites[change | change source]