Alton Glenn Miller 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”, and “Little Brown Jug”. While he was traveling to entertain U.S. troops in France during World War II, Glenn Miller’s aircraft disappeared in bad weather over the English Channel.
In 1938, he realized that he needed to develop a unique sound, and decided to make the clarinet play a melodic line with a tenor saxophone holding the same note, while three other saxophones harmonized within a single octave. George T. Simon discovered a saxophonist named Wilbur Schwartz for Glenn Miller. Miller hired Schwartz, but instead had him play lead clarinet. According to Simon, “Willie’s tone and way of playing provided a fullness and richness so distinctive that none of the later Miller imitators could ever accurately reproduce the Miller sound.” With this new sound combination, Glenn Miller found a way to differentiate his band’s style from the many bands that existed in the late thirties. Miller talked about his style in the May, 1939 issue of Metronome magazine. “You’ll notice today some bands use the same trick on every introduction; others repeat the same musical phrase as a modulation into a vocal … We’re fortunate in that our style doesn’t limit us to stereotyped intros, modulations, first choruses, endings or even trick rhythms. The fifth sax, playing clarinet most of the time, lets you know whose band you’re listening to. And that’s about all there is to it.”
In September 1938, the Miller band began making recordings for the RCA Victor, Bluebird Records subsidiary. Cy Shribman, a prominent East Coast businessman, began financing the band, providing a much needed infusion of cash. In the spring of 1939, the band’s fortunes improved with a date at the Meadowbrook Ballroom in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, and more dramatically at the Glen Island Casino in New Rochelle, New York. The Glen Island date according to author Gunther Schuller attracted “a record breaking opening night crowd of 1800…” With the Glen Island date, the band began a huge rise in popularity. In 1939, TIME magazine noted: “Of the twelve to 24 discs in each of today’s 300,000 U.S. jukeboxes, from two to six are usually Glenn Miller’s.” There were record-breaking recordings such as “Tuxedo Junction” which sold 115,000 copies in the first week. Miller’s huge success in 1939 culminated with his band appearing at Carnegie Hall on October 6, with Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman, and Fred Waring also the main attractions.
From 1939 to 1942, Miller’s band was featured three times a week during a quarter-hour broadcast for Chesterfield cigarettes on CBS, first with the Andrews Sisters and then on its own. On February 10, 1942, RCA Victor presented Miller with the first gold record for “Chattanooga Choo-Choo”. “Chattanooga Choo Choo” was performed by the Miller orchestra with his singers Gordon “Tex” Beneke, Paula Kelly and the vocal group, the Modernaires. Other singers with this orchestra included Marion Hutton, Skip Nelson, Ray Eberle and to a smaller extent, Kay Starr, Ernie Caceres, Dorothy Claire and Jack Lathrop. Pat Friday ghost sang with the Miller band in their two films, Sun Valley Serenade and Orchestra Wives with Lynn Bari lip synching.
Miller and his band appeared in two Twentieth Century Fox films. In 1941’s Sun Valley Serenade they were major members of the cast, which also featured comedian Milton Berle. The Miller band returned to Hollywood to film 1942’s Orchestra Wives, featuring Jackie Gleason playing a part as the group’s bassist, Ben Beck. Miller had an ailment that made laughter extremely painful. Since Jackie Gleason was a comedian, Miller had a difficult time watching Gleason more than once, because Miller would start laughing. Harry Morgan appears as Cully Anderson, the unrequited love interest of Ann Rutherford’s character, Connie Ward. Miller was contracted to do a third movie for Fox, Blind Date, but as he entered the U.S. Army, this never panned out. The Glenn Miller Story was released in 1953/1954.
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