The Glenn Miller Orchestra performs on the Webb Center stage on Sunday, March 2 at 3:00 pm.
But, just who was Glenn Miller?
Alton Glenn Miller was born in Clarinda, Iowa on March 1, 1904. One day, his father brought home a mandolin. Glenn promptly traded it for an old battered horn, which he practiced every chance he got. In fact his mother worried, “It got to where Pop and I used to wonder if he’d ever amount to anything.”
In 1923, Glenn dropped out of college to concentrate on his career as a professional musician. He toured with several orchestras and ended up in Los Angeles where he landed a spot in Ben Pollack’s group, a band that included a guy named Benny Goodman. Here, Miller also got the chance to write some arrangements.
Over the years, Glenn played and recorded with the likes of Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey (who on several of their records featured an up-and-coming singer by the name of Bing Crosby) and Gene Krupa.
In 1937, Glenn Miller stepped out to form his own band, but it was not to be- Glenn gave his men their final notice after a few gigs. Broke, depressed and having no idea what he was going to do, he returned to New York City.
It is said that Miller could never remember precisely the moment he decided to emphasize his new reed section sound. But it was during this disheartening interim, that he realized the unique sound — produced by the clarinet holding the melodic line while the tenor sax plays the same note, and supported harmonically by three other saxophones — just might be the individual and easily recognizable style that would set his band apart from all the rest.
Formed in March 1938, the second Glenn Miller Orchestra had record-breaking hits, such as “Tuxedo Junction”, which sold 115,000 copies in the first week. “In the Mood”, and “Pennsylvania 6-5000″ and of course, the“Moonlight Serenade.” In 1941, it was off to Hollywood where the band worked on its first movie, “Sun Valley Serenade”, which introduced the song — and soon-to-be million selling record –”Chattanooga Choo Choo.” But the war was starting to take its toll on many of the big bands as musicians, and the rest of country’s young men, began receiving draft notices.
On October 7, 1942, Alton Glenn Miller reported for induction into the Army and was immediately assigned to the Army Specialist Corps. His appointment as a Captain came after many months of convincing the military higher-ups that he could modernize the army band and ultimately improve the morale of the men. His training complete, he was transferred into the Army Air Corps, where he ultimately organized the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band. Miller’s goal of entertaining the fighting troops took another year to be realized, but in late 1943 he and the band were shipped out to England.
There, in less than one year, the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band engaged in over 800 performances. Of these, 500 were broadcasts heard by millions. There were more than 300 personal appearances including concerts and dances, with a gross attendance of over 600,000. But Glenn was not to participate in the final six months of these activities.
In the Fall of 1944, the band was scheduled to be sent on a six-week tour of Europe and would be stationed in Paris during that time. Miller decided to go ahead, in order to make the proper arrangements for the group’s arrival. And so, on December 15th, Glenn Miller boarded a transport plane to Paris, never to be seen again.
The present Glenn Miller Orchestra was formed in 1956 and has been touring consistently since, playing an average of 300 live dates a year all over the globe.