Glenn Miller – The Band Plays On

Alton Glenn Miller was born in Clarinda, Iowa, on March 1, 1904. His untimely death occurred on December 15, 1944 – probably in the English Channel, but controversy concerning Miller’s death remains to this day.   Despite his death over half a century ago, Glenn Miller's music lives on.   His record of “In The Mood” has been a jukebox staple for decade after decade, and the recording periodically resurfaces on the charts. His band lives on, under a succession of leaders, and his arrangements have entered the standard repertoire of revival bands and orchestras. The United States Postal Service has issued a Glenn Miller commemorative stamp. 

Miller’s success was far from “overnight.” He led a succession of bands, from 1934 through 1937, which did not succeed, and he supported himself by writing arrangements for other bands and playing trombone. But he believed that “a band ought to have a sound all of its own – it ought to have a personality.” To that end he crafted a unique sound, based on a clarinet and a tenor sax playing the melodic line in unison while supported harmonically by three other saxes. He applied this sound to a new band, formed in March, 1938, and enjoyed an almost immediate success. Miller's band played “sweet” swing, as opposed to the “hot” kind played by the more jazz-oriented bands like Benny Goodman’s.

Miller quickly found his audience – both in live bookings and with records. The band broke attendance records all up and down the East Coast. “Tuxedo Junction” sold 115,000 copies in its first week. “In The Mood” and “Pennsylvania 6-5000” did even better. All were released on RCA Victor's Bluebird label. 

Late in 1939 the Miller band began broadcasting Moonlight Serenade on CBS. Each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, at 7:00 in the evening, the band could be heard playing its hits, sponsored by Ligget & Myers Tobacco Co.’s Chesterfield cigarettes. The show lasted for almost three years, ending when the band broke up during World War II.

Early in 1940 Down Beat revealed that Miller’s had topped all the other bands in its Sweet Band Poll.

Hollywood beckoned, and in 1941 the band appeared in Sun Valley Serenade, where three new songs were introduced, and one of them, “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” became the first gold record ever awarded in recording history, selling more than a million copies. A year later the band made a second movie, Orchestra Wives, but by then the war was on and Miller joined the Army Air Corps on October 7, 1942.

Miller led the Army Air Force Band, and it was in the service of the band’s planned performance in the liberated Paris that he took off in a small plane, a Norseman C 64, and headed across the English Channel on the afternoon of December 15, 1944, to make arrangements for the arrival of his band.

He never arrived.   Controversy surrounds his disappearance. The weather was bad. In 1984 it was revealed that his plane may have been the victim of “friendly fire.”   But a German newspaper has made the claim that Miller died of a heart attack in the arms of a French prostitute – and his fate was covered up to maintain his legend and the morale of the troops.

Early plans to film Glenn Miller’s life – with Betty Grable playing the role of his wife – were abandoned during the war, but in 1954 James Stewart was cast in the title role of The Glenn Miller Story, and this biopic sparked a revival of interest in Miller's records, which were reissued by Victor in a Limited Edition of five LPs, bound in white leatherette, which is now valued at $100 to $200, depending on condition. The movie earned three Oscar nominations and won an Oscar for Best Sound Recording. (29638 bytes)