Glenn Miller

Photo of Glenn Miller
  • Born

    March 1, 1904
    Clarinda, Iowa
  • Died

    December 15, 1944 (age 40)
    English Channel

One of America’s most cel­e­brated band­lead­ers, Glenn Miller’s name is syn­ony­mous with swing mu­sic. Miller’s chart suc­cess and pop­u­lar­ity among au­di­ences of his time ri­vals that of lat­ter-day artists such as Elvis Presley and the Beatles. Within the rel­a­tively short pe­riod of three-and-a-half years he man­aged to top the charts more than 20 times.

Miller worked with a va­ri­ety of bands and or­ches­tras early in his ca­reer. He be­came known as a ca­pa­ble or­ga­nizer, help­ing put to­gether suc­cess­ful bands for Smith Ballew, the Dorsey Brothers, and Ray Noble, though he had a dif­fi­cult time start­ing one of his own. His first or­ches­tra, in 1935, lasted only a few months. A sec­ond in 1937, with Kathleen (Kitty) Lane and Jeanne D’Arcy as vo­cal­ists, also failed to catch on. He fi­nally hit the right for­mula in 1938. His new sound was greeted en­thu­si­as­ti­cally, and by the fol­low­ing year his or­ches­tra was in great de­mand.

Miller’s band is prob­a­bly as well known for its vo­cal­ists as it is for its mu­sic. Miller ini­tially hired Gail Reese as fe­male singer when he formed the group in 1938. Never quite happy with her, he kept his eye open for a re­place­ment who could liven up the act. He fi­nally found what he was look­ing for in Marion Hutton, whom he heard while she and sis­ter Betty were per­form­ing in Boston with Vincent Lopez’s or­ches­tra. He thought Marion eas­ier to man­ager than Betty and hired her to re­place Reese af­ter only a few months.

Hutton re­mained with the group through­out the rest of its ex­is­tence, though she took leave of ab­sence twice—the first time in sum­mer 1939, when she col­lapsed from ex­haus­tion, and the sec­ond in early 1941, when it be­came pub­lic that she was preg­nant. Kay Starr took her place dur­ing the few weeks she was gone in 1939. Miller hired Bobby Byrne vo­cal­ist Dorothy Claire to re­place her dur­ing the lat­ter ab­sence. Claire, how­ever, was still un­der con­tract to Byrne, which started a very pub­lic spat be­tween the two lead­ers and re­sulted in Byrne su­ing Claire for breach of con­tract. Miller re­leased Claire less than two months af­ter hir­ing her, and she re­turned to Byrne to fin­ish out her con­tract. In her place, Miller hired Paula Kelly, wife of Modernaire Hal Dickinson. Kelly re­mained with the band un­til Hutton re­turned in August.

Miller’s male vo­cal­ist sit­u­a­tion proved less com­pli­cated. When form­ing the or­ches­tra, Miller asked pop­u­lar Jimmy Dorsey vo­cal­ist Bob Eberly if he had any broth­ers who could sing, and Bob said yes. Miller hired Ray Eberle[1] based solely on that rec­om­men­da­tion. Though Eberle emerged as one of the most pop­u­lar male vo­cal­ists of the era, his singing style was­n’t al­ways ap­pre­ci­ated by crit­ics or even Miller’s own mu­si­cians. Still, he re­mained with the band un­til al­most the very end.

Eberle was of­ten un­pro­fes­sional, which irked the al­ways pro­fes­sional Miller. A se­ries of in­ci­dents in 1942 led to Miller fir­ing Eberle in June when he showed up late to re­hearsal, even though the rea­son for his tar­di­ness was be­yond his con­trol. Both Eberle and Miller took their com­plaints about each other pub­lic af­ter the fir­ing. Miller re­placed the de­parted singer with Chico Marx vo­cal­ist Skip Nelson.

Saxophonist Tex Beneke was an orig­i­nal mem­ber of Miller’s group and re­mained with the band­leader for the du­ra­tion of the or­ches­tra’s ex­is­tence. Beneke sang on the band’s spe­cialty num­bers, which in­clude some of its more fa­mous and en­dur­ing songs, such as Chattanooga Choo Choo” and I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo.” Vocal group the Modernaires joined Miller in January 1941.

In September 1942, Miller dis­banded his group and joined the Army Air Force with the goal of or­ga­niz­ing a mod­ern mil­i­tary band. His new or­ches­tra played a con­stant stream of ra­dio broad­casts and con­certs. In December 1944, the band was slated to per­form in Paris. Miller flew ahead to fi­nal­ize arrange­ments, but his plane never landed. The ex­act cause of the plane’s dis­ap­pear­ance is still un­known to this day. Its wreck­age has never been found, though it is be­lieved to have been shot down over the English Channel.

After Miller en­tered the ser­vice, Hutton, Beneke, and the Modernaires teamed up in a com­bined act called the Glenn Miller Singers and toured the coun­try to sell-out crowds. Beneke left the group at year end, first for Horace Heidt’s band and then for the Navy. Hutton left the act in August 1943 to pur­sue a solo ca­reer, at which point the Modernaires brought in Paula Kelly and be­gan tour­ing as a com­bined act called, ap­pro­pri­ately enough, the Modernaires with Paula Kelly.

Notes

  1. The two Eberle broth­ers spelled their names dif­fer­ently. Bob changed his pro­fes­sion­ally when the an­nouncer on the Milton Berle show kept mis­pro­nounc­ing it.

Music

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  • Why'd Ya Make Me Fall in Love
    Glenn Miller (Gail Reese), Biltmore (1938)
  • Baby Me
    Glenn Miller (Kay Starr), Bluebird (1939)
  • Three Little Fishes
    Glenn Miller (Marion Hutton, Tex Beneke), Bluebird (1939)
  • You've Got Me This Way
    Glenn Miller (Marion Hutton), Bluebird (1940)
  • Chattanooga Choo Choo
    Glenn Miller (Tex Beneke, Modernaires), Bluebird (1941)
  • Elmer's Tune
    Glenn Miller (Ray Eberle), Bluebird (1941)
  • Moonlight Cocktail
    Glenn Miller (Ray Eberle, Modernaires), Bluebird (1941)
  • Perfidia
    Glenn Miller (Dorothy Claire, Moderniares), Bluebird (1941)
  • I Know Why
    Glenn Miller (Paula Kelly), Bluebird (1941)
  • I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo
    Glenn Miller (Tex Beneke, Marion Hutton, Modernaires), RCA Victor (1942)
  • Jukebox Saturday Night
    Glenn Miller (Tex Beneke, Marion Hutton, Modernaires), RCA Victor (1942)
  • That Old Black Magic
    Glenn Miller (Skip Nelson, the Modernaires), RCA Victor (1942)
  • Moonlight Becomes You
    Glenn Miller (Skip Nelson, the Modernaires), RCA Victor (1942)

All recordings are from the Internet Archive's 78rpm collection. Copyright owners, please see our removal policy.

Films

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  • Screenshot
    "Chattanooga Choo Choo"
    Glenn Miller (Tex Beneke, Paula Kelly, Modernaires)
    from Sun Valley Serenade, 20th Century Fox (1941)
  • Screenshot
    "People Like You and Me"
    Glenn Miller (Ray Eberle, Marion Hutton, Modernaires, Tex Beneke)
    from Orchestra Wives, 20th Century Fox (1942)
  • Screenshot
    "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo"
    Glenn Miller (Tex Beneke, Marion Hutton, Modernaires)
    from Orchestra Wives, 20th Century Fox (1942)

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Radio

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  • Glenn Miller
    June 18, 1938 (NBC) 29:59
  • Glenn Miller
    June 19, 1939 (NBC) 13:54
  • Glenn Miller Chesterfield Show
    May 14, 1942 (CBS) 13:59
  • Glenn Miller Chesterfield Show, Ray Eberle interview
    June 25, 1942 (CBS) 1:48
  • Glenn Miller Chesterfield Show
    July 14, 1942 (CBS) 13:59

Sources

For sources, see entries for each vocalist or vocal group.