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.


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


Previous <<
Play > Pause ||
Next >>
0:00 / 0:00
Select a song to play
Play All
  • 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.


Select a video to play
  • 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)

We embed media from YouTube and the Internet Archive. Items may disappear on those services without notice. If you run across something that's no longer available, please let us know so we can remove the embed.

Copyright owners, please see our removal policy.


Previous <<
Play > Pause ||
Next >>
0:00 / 0:00
Select a program to play
Play All
  • 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


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