Alton Glenn Miller (March 1 1904–presumably December 15 1944), was an American jazz musician and band leader in the swing era. He was one of the best-selling recording artists from 1939 to 1942, leading one of the best known "Big Bands". Miller's signature recordings include, "In the Mood", "Tuxedo Junction", "Chattanooga Choo Choo", "Moonlight Serenade", "Little Brown Jug", and "Pennsylvania 6-5000". While travelling to entertain U.S. troops in France during World War II, Miller's plane disappeared in bad weather. His body was never found.
In 1923, Miller entered the University of Colorado where he joined Sigma Nu Fraternity, but spent most of his time away from school, attending auditions and playing any gigs he could get, most notably with Boyd Senter's band in Denver. He dropped out of school after failing three out of five classes one semester, and decided to concentrate on making a career as a professional musician. He later studied the Schillinger technique with Joseph Schillinger, who is credited with helping Miller create the "Miller sound", and under whose tutelage he himself composed what became his signature theme, "Moonlight Serenade.
In 1926, Miller toured with several groups and landed a good spot in Ben Pollack's group in Los Angeles. During his stint with Pollack, Miller had the opportunity to write several musical arrangements of his own. In 1928, when the band arrived in New York City, he sent for and married his college sweetheart, Helen Burger. He was a member of Red Nichols’s orchestra in 1930, and because of Nichols, played in the pit bands of two Broadway shows, Strike Up the Band and Girl Crazy, his bandmates included Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa. "The consensus there was that Miller was no more than an average trombonist. Despite this, during the late 1920s and early 1930s, Miller managed to earn a living working as a freelance trombonist in several bands. In November of 1929, an original vocalist named Red McKenzie hired Glenn to play on two records that are now considered to be jazz classics: "Hello, Lola" and "If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight". "Not only were [the two songs Miller recorded] considered major musical items, but they also represented one of the major breakthroughs in blacks and whites playing together." Besides Glenn were clarinetist Pee Wee Russell, guitarist Eddie Condon, drummer Gene Krupa and Coleman Hawkins on tenor saxophone.
In the mid-1930s, Miller also worked as a trombonist and arranger in The Dorsey Brothers ill-fated co-led orchestra. Miller composed the song Annie's Cousin Fanny and Dese Dem Dose for the Dorsey Brothers Band in 1934 and 1935. In 1935, he assembled an American orchestra for British bandleader Ray Noble, developing the arrangement of lead clarinet over four saxophones that eventually became the sonic keynote of his own big band. Members of the Noble band included future bandleader Claude Thornhill, Bud Freeman and Charlie Spivak.
Glenn Miller compiled several musical arrangements before forming his first band in 1937. The band failed to distinguish itself from the many others of the era, and eventually broke up. Benny Goodman said in 1976, "In late 1937, before his band became popular, we were both playing in Dallas. Glenn was pretty dejected and came to see me. He asked, 'What do you do? How do you make it?' I said, 'I don't know, Glenn. You just stay with it.
In September 1938, the Miller band began making recordings for the RCA Victor Bluebird Records subsidiary. 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. 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. Nineteen thirty-nine's huge success culminated with the Miller band in concert 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 broadcast for Chesterfield cigarettes. 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.
In 2004, Glenn Miller orchestra bassist Herman "Trigger" Alpert explained the band's success: "Miller had America's music pulse.[...] He knew what would please the listeners." Although Miller had massive popularity, many jazz critics of the time had their misgivings, believing that the band's endless rehearsals and "letter-perfect playing" diminished excitement and feeling from performances. They also felt that Miller's brand of swing shifted popular music away from the "hot" jazz bands of Benny Goodman and Count Basie towards commercial novelty instrumentals and vocal numbers. Miller was often criticized for being too commercial. His answer to the criticism was, "I don't want a jazz band". Many modern jazz critics still harbour similar antipathy toward Miller. In an article written by Gary Giddins for The New Yorker in 2004, Giddins felt that these early critics erred in denigrating Glenn Miller's music, and that the popular opinion of the time should hold greater sway. The article states: "Miller exuded little warmth on or off the bandstand, but once the band struck up its theme, audiences were done for: throats clutched, eyes softened. Can any other record match "Moonlight Serenade" for its ability to induce a Pavlovian slaver in so many for so long?" Miller and his band appeared in two Hollywood films, 1941's, Sun Valley Serenade and 1942's Orchestra Wives, the latter featuring Jackie Gleason playing a part as the group's bassist. Miller insisted on a believable script before he'd go before Twentieth-Century Fox cameras. Miller also demanded that the band become an integral part of the story and not just be thrown into some inconsequential scene. He had achieved star status and he was now demanding and getting star treatment.
In 1942, at the peak of his civilian career, Miller decided he could better serve those in uniform by joining the war effort. At 38 years old, Miller was too old to be drafted, and first volunteered for the Navy but was told that they did not need his services. [Simon 309-310] Miller then wrote to Army Brigadier General Charles Young on August 12 1942. Miller persuaded the United States Army Air Forces to accept him so he could in his own words, "be placed in charge of a modernized army band." After being accepted in the Army, Glenn’s civilian band played their last concert in Passaic, New Jersey on September 27 1942.
Captain Glenn Miller served initially as assistant special services officer for the Army Air Forces Southeast Training Center at Maxwell Field, Montgomery, Alabama, in December 1942. He played trombone with the Rhythmaires, a 15-piece dance band, in both Mongtomery and in service clubs and recreation halls on Maxwell. Miller also appeared on both WAPI (Birmingham, Alabama) and WSFA radio (Montgomery), promoting the activities of civil service women aircraft mechanics employed at Maxwell. Miller began a weekly radio broadcast in June 1943 in New York City whose success as a recruiting asset led to permission for Miller to form his 50-piece Army Air Force Band and take it to England in the summer of 1944, where he gave 800 performances.
He initially formed a large marching band that was to be the core of a network of service orchestras, but his attempts at modernizing military music were met with some resistance from tradition-minded career officers. An example is the arrangement of "St. Louis Blues March", combining blues and jazz with the traditional military march. This was recorded on October 29 1943 at the Victor studios in New York City. Miller's striking innovations and his adaptations of Sousa marches for the AAF band prompted Time magazine to claim that he had rankled traditionalists in the field of Army music and had desecrated the March King. The magazine also criticized Miller's injection of casual enjoyment into the disciplined cadences of military music, stating that the Army was 'swinging its hips instead of its feet.'" But by the time of Miller's death, opinion had changed. General Jimmy Doolittle said, “[...]next to a letter from home, that organization was the greatest morale builder in the European Theater of Operations.”
On December 15, 1944, Miller, now a major, was to fly from the United Kingdom to Paris, France, to play for the soldiers who recently had liberated Paris. His plane departed from RAF Twinwood Farm, in Clapham, Bedfordshire, but disappeared over the English Channel. Miller's remains and the wreckage of the plane (a single-engine UC-64 Norseman, USAAF serial 44-70285) have never been found.
Since Miller's disappearance more than sixty years ago, there have been many theories about what happened. Buddy DeFranco, one of the leaders of the post-war Glenn Miller orchestra, told biographer George T. Simon of the many theories of Miller's disappearance that were told to him while he was leading the band in the 1970s. DeFranco said "If I were to believe all those stories, there would have been about twelve thousand four hundred and fifty eight people there at the field in England seeing him off on that last flight!
Miller's plane may have been bombed accidentally by Royal Air Force aircraft over the English Channel after an abortive air raid on Siegen, Germany. One hundred and thirty-eight Lancaster bombers, short on fuel, jettisoned approximately 100,000 incendiaries in a designated area before landing, per standing orders. The logbooks of Royal Air Force navigator Fred Shaw recorded that he saw a small single-engined monoplane spiralling out of control and crashed into the water. If this was indeed Miller's plane, the RAF crews were not culpable for the plane carrying Miller straying off course into their designated drop area. However, a second source, while acknowledging the possibility, casts doubt on the version, citing other RAF crew members flying the same mission who state the drop area was in the North Sea, a more likely location.
Miller's surname resides on the 'Wall of Missing' at the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial. A monument stone was also placed in Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven, Connecticut next to the campus of Yale University.
This band recorded for RCA Victor, just as the original Miller band did. Beneke was struggling with how to expand the Miller sound and also how to achieve success under his own name. What began as the "Glenn Miller Orchestra Under the Direction of Tex Beneke" finally became "The Tex Beneke Orchestra". By 1950, Beneke and the Miller estate parted ways. The break was acrimonious and Beneke is not currently listed by the Miller estate as a former leader of the Glenn Miller orchestra.
When Glenn Miller was alive, various bandleaders like Bob Chester imitated his style. By the early 1950s, various bands were again copying the Miller style of clarinet led reeds and muted trumpets, notably Ralph Flanagan, Jerry Gray, and Ray Anthony. This, coupled with the success of The Glenn Miller Story (1953), led the Miller estate to ask Ray McKinley to lead a new ghost band. This 1956 band which included such greats as pianist Don Wilhite among others, is the original version of the current ghost band that still tours the United States today. The official Glenn Miller orchestra for the United States is currently under the direction of Larry O'Brien. The officially sanctioned Glenn Miller Orchestra for the United Kingdom has toured and recorded with great success under the leadership of Ray McVay. The official Glenn Miller Orchestra for Europe has been led by Wil Salden since 1990.
Glenn Miller's widow, Helen, died in 1966. Herb Miller, Glenn Miller's brother, led his own band in the United States and England until the late 1980s. Herb's son, John continues the tradition leading a band playing mainly Glenn Miller style music.
In the United States and England, there are a few archives that are devoted to Glenn Miller. The Glenn Miller archive, at the University of Colorado at Boulder, includes the original manuscript to Miller's theme song, "Moonlight Serenade", among other items of interest. In 2002, the Glenn Miller Museum opened to the public at the former RAF Twinwood Farm, in Clapham, Bedfordshire, England.
In 2003, Miller posthumously received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
The entire output of cigarette sponsored radio programs Glenn Miller did between 1939 and 1942 were recorded by the Glenn Miller organization on acetate discs. In the 1950s and afterwards, RCA-Victor distributed many of these on long playing albums and compact discs. A sizeable representation of the recording output by the various Glenn Miller led bands are almost always in circulation by Sony/BMG Music and the Universal Music Group, the successor labels to RCA-Victor, Bluebird, Columbia and Decca. Glenn Miller remains one of the most famous and recognizable names of the big band era of 1935 to 1945.
The no.1 1967 single All You Need is Love by The Beatles quotes Glenn Miller's In the Mood in the closing fade-out. Glenn Miller's In the Mood was also the main theme in the novelty record Swing the Mood by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers, which was no.1 for 5 weeks in the UK in 1989.
Glenn Miller Compositions
Glenn Miller composed or wrote at least ten songs that are available on recordings.
The ten songs that Glenn Miller composed are the following:
1. "Moonlight Serenade", Glenn Miller composed the music in 1939, with lyrics by Mitchell Parish, was his theme and signature song and is one of the most recognizable compositions of the 20th century, which has been covered by Frank Sinatra, Barry Manilow, Ella Fitzgerald, Carly Simon, Charlie Haden, and the rock group Chicago.
2. "Sold American" was composed in 1938 by Glenn Miller and John "Chummy" MacGregor, the piano player in the Glenn Miller Orchestra. The title appears on some recordings as "Solid American".
3. "Solo Hop" was a Top 10 hit from the summer of 1935 which Glenn Miller composed for his own band when he started recording for Columbia Records.
4. "Introduction to a Waltz" was an instrumental composition.
5. "Annie's Cousin Fanny" or as "Annie's Cousin Fannie is a Sweetie of Mine" from 1935, was written for the Dorsey Brothers Band, which featured lyrics, was recorded first on June 4, 1934 in New York when Glenn Miller was part of the band and released on Brunswick and Decca. The record also appears as "Annie's Cousin Fannie is a Sweetie of Mine" sung by Kay Weber, one of the first female singers of the Big Band Era, and Glenn Miller, who had discovered her. The Dorsey Band recorded three diffferent versions of the song in June and August, 1934, released on Brunswick and later on Decca. Weber explained the origins of the song: "There was a very popular song at the time called Annie Doesn't Live Here Any More and Glenn wrote a spin-off of this song called Annie's Cousin Fannie Is A Sweetie Of Mine. I don't know why Tommy and Jimmy recorded it so much. I can only guess they were looking for the 'right' combination for the song."
6. "Dese Dem Dose" also as "Dese Dem and Dose" and "Dese Dem & Dose" was composed by Glenn Miller in 1935 for the Dorsey Brothers Band, was recorded in New York on February 6, 1935, and was released as a 78 on Decca paired with "Weary Blues" as Decca 469. Jazz trumpeter Billy Butterfield and Andy Bartha later covered "Dese Dem Dose".
7. "Doin' the Jive" was composed by Glenn Miller in 1937.
8. "Community Swing" was composed by Glenn Miller in 1937.
9. "Seven-O-Five" or "705" was an instrumental composed by Glenn Miller.
10. "I Sustain the Wings" was composed by Glenn Miller, Chummy MacGregor, Norman Leyden and Bill Meyers. This was the theme music for the NBC radio programs that was broadcast weekly from June, 1943 to 1944, during World War II. This was when Glenn Miller was in the U.S. Air Force. Major Glenn Miller and the American Band of the Allied Expeditionary Force also made recordings for the Office of War Information (OWI) in 1944 that were broadcast over the American Broadcasting Station in Europe to Germany in a program called The Wehrmacht Hour.
Some of the Army Air Force members went on to notable careers in classical music. Two such are: