One of my fondest memories growing up in the 40s and 50s was having my dad sing some of the famous songs of his youth – songs about love and life – songs with a good beat and timing songs with beautiful melodies which were made to be sung and danced to. My dad had a great voice. He could whistle too and when he forgot the words to a song, he’d often purse his lips and whistle it instead. Dad grew up in the twenties – the age of the big bands – when people actually danced in each others’ arms and didn’t have to wear ear plugs to tone down the bass.
Glenn Miller was born, on this day, in 1904 in the town of Clarinda, Iowa. He attended grade school in North Platte in the western part of Nebraska. By the time Glenn was eleven years old, he had earned enough by milking cows to buy a trombone and he played in the town orchestra. When his family moved again in 1916 to Colorado, he joined the high school American football team. When he was a senior, he decided to become a professional musician in one of those new “Big Bands” of the 20s. He eventually went on to form his own band. He is best known for his musical arrangements and compositions, which produced some of those great tunes my dad loved to sing.
When my dad was only a young boy, Glenn Miller had already made a name for himself, writing his own musical arrangements – played in the pit bands of two Broadway shows, was writing music with Benny Goodman and married his high school sweetheart, Helen Burger.
In the late thirties, the Glenn Miller Band began to stand out against its competition. Glenn had developed a style that set his orchestra apart – a style that would connect his name to it for all time.
In 1942, after Pearl Harbor, Miller decided to be part of the war effort. By this time, he was 38 years old, too old to be drafted and rejected by the Navy. He appealed to the Army to accept him to head up a military band that would help keep morale strong. He gave up a weekly income of $15,000 to $20,000 a week to serve his country. This was huge in those days. It’s huge today! He once stated on the radio:
“America means freedom and there’s no expression of freedom quite so sincere as music.”
On December 15, 1944, he boarded a small plane to Paris to make arrangements to have his band moved there to perform. There were two others on the plane – Lt. Col. Norman Baessell and pilot, John Morgan. Somewhere over the English Channel, the plane disappeared. The newspapers reported a faulty carburetor had caused the plane to crash, but that was never proven. Glenn Miller was declared, missing in action. His wife accepted the bronze star medal on his behalf in 1945.
Three of his tunes – Chattanooga Choo-choo, In the Mood and Moonlight Serenade were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame posthumously. They have been engrained in my memory by the voice of my dad.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MR. MILLER!