I have always been a Big Band fan. For me, there is only one name that comes to mind when I think Big Band. Glenn Miller!
I almost titled this post as “The Day the Music Died” but I did not want to confuse people.
Glenn Miller has always been one of my heroes, and I have often wondered what the world would have been like without his loss.
Alton Glenn Miller was born on March 1, 1904, in Clarinda, Iowa. His family moved often over the next 14 years. From Iowa to Nebraska, Missouri, and finally settling in Fort Morgan, Colorado. As a young man in Nebraska, Glenn learned to play the mandolin. In Missouri, Glenn traded his mandolin for an old horn and played the trombone for the rest of his days.
He played in the high school band in Fort Morgan before graduating in 1921. Glenn went pro in 1921 playing for the Boyd Senter orchestra. In 1923, Glenn went to the University of Colorado, Boulder for a year before becoming their most famous dropout.
He worked for various bands in Los Angeles before settling in New York City. In 1934, he became the musical director for Tommy Dorsey’s band alongside Jimmy Dorsey. While in New York, Miller studied musical theory and composition with Joseph Schillinger.
Glenn Miller recorded under his own name in 1935. He struggled for a few years constantly re-arranging the band until he found the sound perfection that he was looking for. In 1939, the Glenn Miller Orchestra hit the big time with a gig at the Glen Island Casino in New Rochelle, New York. The band’s performances were broadcast on the radio giving them a larger exposure.
“A band ought to have a sound all of its own. It ought to have a personality.” – Glenn Miller
Glenn Miller’s breakout hit “Moonlight Serenade” in 1939 helped to propel the band to stardom. By 1940, Glenn Miller and his Orchestra were the biggest dance band in America.
Top 10 hits:
- 17 in 1939
- 31 in 1940
- 11 in 1941
- 11 in 1942
- 2 in 1943 including #1 “That Old Black Magic“
On December 7, 1941, the world change for America. As heard in an interview on HBO’s Band of Brothers; “We was attacked!.”
The famous and HUGE for American morale Glenn Miller Orchestra came to an end in 1942 when Glenn Miller received an officer’s commision in the United States Army. Glenn Miller did what everyone else did during our greatest generation. He put his career on hold and signed up to serve.
Glenn was transferred to the Army Air Force where he established a service band to entertain the troops. During their time together the Glenn Miller service band preformed 800 performances. 300 of those performances were personal appearances with the rest studio broadcasts.
In 1944 Glenn Miller and his service band were performing in England. In December Glenn found out that they were going to Paris for a six month tour. Major Glenn Miller boarded a US Military transport flight to Paris on December 15, 1944.
He was flying to Paris to make arrangements for his band and their tour schedule. After leaving England over the Channel enroute to Paris, Glenn Miller’s transport plane vanished. The plane, Major Miller, and everyone else was never seen again.
Major Alton Glenn Miller is still listed as Missing in Action in the European Theater.
- The Bronze Star
- World War II Victory Medal
- American Campaign Medal
- The European, African and Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
- The Marksman Badge with Carbine and Pistol Bars
“His favorite author was Damon Runyon. His favorite book was the Bible. Spencer Tracy and Olivia de Havilland were his favorite movie actor and actress. His big loves were trout fishing, playing baseball, listening to good music, sleep and money. His pet hates were bad swing, early-morning telephone calls (he liked to sleep from 4 a.m. to noon), and the phrase ‘goodbye now’. His favorite quotation, one he stated, was not from the Bible, nor from Runyon, but from Duke Ellington: ‘It Don’t Mean a Thing If it Ain’t Got that Swing!’
The Glenn Miller Air Force band continued to play for months after his passing. And the Glenn Miller Orchestra was revived after the war to honor the King of Swing.
Glenn Miller was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievment Award in 2003.