After years of working with other popular bands, Glenn Miller decided to strike out on his own. He finally found the melodic rhythms he was looking for when he formed his own band in 1938. The sound quickly caught on and a new generation of Jazz began to sweep the country. Soon after, the band received requests to play in dance halls and on the radio.
In 1939, barely one year after its formation, Chesterfield Cigarettes sponsored the Glenn Miller Orchestra on radio. The 15-minute program aired three times a week on the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) network. The show’s popularity soared, as well as the band’s many recordings. Some of the era’s hottest singers performed with the band, including Kay Starr, Marion Hutton, Ernie Caceres and others. Notable band members included Bobby Hacket, Billy May and Paul Tanner. Several band members went on to have successful careers in music or film.
In the early 1940’s, the orchestra was featured in two films distributed by Twentieth Century Fox. Glenn Miller and his band starred alongside Milton Berle in the 1941 comedy, “Sun Valley Serenade.” In 1942, they appeared with Jackie Gleason in the film, “Orchestra Wives.”
By 1942, the orchestra started to disband. Miller, who was already 38 years old, was a fierce patriot, who was convinced he could best serve his country in the military. After the U.S. Navy rejected him, Miller applied to the U.S. Army. With the help of Brigadier General Charles Young, Miller was inducted. He achieved the rank of Captain and was stationed at the Army Air Force Southeast Training Center in Alabama.
While stationed in Alabama, Miller played with the Rhythmaires, who provided entertainment for servicemen and women at the service clubs and on radio. Miller believed he could help transform and improve military music, bringing it out of the marching band dark ages into the new era of melodic, upbeat sound. Eventually, Miller was allowed to form a 50-piece band.
During 1944, the Army Air Force band traveled across the Atlantic to entertain troops in the U.K. Many of their performances were broadcast in the German language,
in which Miller was fluent. It was hoped that the German language broadcasts would lure German civilians and military personnel to the Allied side.
Unfortunately, Glenn Miller never had the opportunity to further his career outside military service. On December 15, 1944, Miller and fellow band members boarded a plane bound for Paris. The single engine airplane left the Royal Air Force landing strip in Bedfordshire and headed out across the English Channel, where it mysteriously disappeared. The bodies of those on board were never recovered. Nor, was the wreckage from the plane. To this day, several theories circulate in an attempt to explain the disappearance, but there is no evidence. Only 49 years old, Captain Glenn Miller was officially declared missing in action by the U.S. Army.
After his death, Miller’s legacy continued in the form of bands eager to imitate his style. In 1946, Tex Beneke took up the mantel and went on the road with the officially sanctioned Tex Beneke and Glenn Miller Orchestra Band. The band continued to draw crowds until it disbanded in 1950. Thereafter, the Glenn Miller estate took control of the orchestra, where it continues to operate in the hands of family members, today.
Glenn Miller will forever be remembered for his controversial style of Jazz that was often criticized by the professional music community. Nevertheless, his popularity with the public proved he had something special and unique that appealed to the hip audiences of the day. Some of his most popular hits include Chattanooga Choo-Choo, String of Pearls, Sunrise Serenade, Tuxedo Junction and Moonlight Serenade. Most of the Chesterfield radio programs were recorded and many can be heard today.
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