Glenn Miller, leader of the most universally beloved of all big bands, was born on March 1, 1904 in Clarinda, Iowa.
Before starting his own band in 1937, Miller played the trombone for Ben Pollack, Red Nichols, Benny Goodman and the Dorsey Brothers. He also became the defacto leader of Ray Noble’s 1935 American band and did arrangements for Glen Gray and others. His first band failed to make a hit but with a restructured lineup in 1939, Miller developed his trademark reed sound (four saxophones and one clarinet).
The new lineup included arrangers Jerry Gray and Bill Finegan, featured soloists Bobby Hackett, Tex Beneke, Billy May and Hal McIntyre. The bands first success came with the #3 hit from 1939, ‘Moonlight Serenade.’ That same year the band charted 7 #1 hits including ‘Wishing (Will Make it So)’, ‘Stairway to the Stars’, ‘Moon Love’, ‘Over the Rainbow’, ‘The Man with the Mandolin’, ‘Blue Orchids’ and ‘In the Mood’ (selected for the NARAS Hall of Fame).
The following year, the band had another string of lucky 7 #1 hits with ‘Careless’, ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’, ‘Tuxedo Junction’, ‘The Woodpecker Song’, ‘Imagination’, ‘Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear to Tread)’ and ‘Blueberry Hill.’
At the band’s peak, Miller left to enlist in the Army Air Force. He formed the war’s most famous band while the recordings continued to top the charts. From 1941-1943 the band reached the top of the charts with ‘Song of the Volga Boatman’, ‘You and I’, ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’ (the first record formally certified as a million seller), ‘Elmer’s Tune’, ‘A String of Pearls’, ‘Moonlight Cocktail’, ‘Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)’, ‘(I’ve Got a Gal In) Kalamazoo’ and ‘That Old Black Magic.’
On December 15, 1944, Miller’s plane was lost over the English Channel. By the age of 40, Miller had created and popularized a sound that would become legendary. Tex Beneke carried on Miller’s legacy with a new Miller orchestra and Hollywood’s 1954 biopic ‘The Glenn Miller Story’ further immortalized the music and the man.