Growing up I was exposed to a very eclectic mix of music. From classical to rock, folk to barbershop and just about everything in between. Through my mom’s side of the family I was introduced to Big Band, Swing and Jazz. My grandfather held a Masters Degree in music, played multiple instruments, taught clarinet and trombone and probably loved music almost as much as he loved his family. After seeing pictures of him as a young man directing his own “big band,” I personally thought he looked a lot like Benny Goodman! Now, I don’t know if my grandfather was influenced by Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller (I’m thinking he probably was), but they became two of the Big Band masters that I loved to listen to the most.
It was years ago that I learned the story of Glenn Miller and his death over the English Channel. I also saw the movie “The Glenn Miller Story” starring Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson and though it was a somewhat rose-colored version of Glenn Miller’s life, it really showed what a sacrifice his enlisting was to the music world and after his death, just how greatly he was missed by all who knew him. Here is an exerpt from the History of Glenn Miller from the Glenn Miller Birthplace Society:
In 1942, at the peak of his civilian career, Glenn decided he could better serve those in uniform by putting one on himself. By doing this, the band gave up a $20,000 weekly income. Too old to be drafted at age 38, Glenn first volunteered for the Navy but was told that they didn’t need his services. Not giving up, Glenn wrote to the Army’s Brigadier General Charles Young on August 12, 1942. Miller persuaded the Army to accept him so he could in his own words, “put a little more spring into the feet of our marching men and a little more joy into their hearts and to be placed in charge of a modernized army band.” After being accepted in the Army, Glenn’s civilian band played their last concert in Passaic, New Jersey on September 27th, 1942. It was such a sad event that the band couldn’t finish playing the closing theme song, Moonlight Serenade.
Glenn soon became part of the Army Specialists Corps with the rank of captain. For the next year and a half, besides arranging music, Glenn created and directed his own 50-member band. Captain Miller’s mission was morale building, bringing a touch of home to the troops and modernizing military music. Glenn was also a talented fund raiser, and raised millions of dollars in war bond drives. He also attracted Air Corps recruits through his I Sustain the Wings weekly radio broadcasts.
Still wanting to do more, Glenn arranged for overseas duty for the band. Arriving in London, the band was quartered at 25 Sloane Street, an area in constant barrage by German V-1 buzz bombs. Glenn was immediately concerned for the band and made arrangements for the unit to move to new quarters in Bedford, England. The band moved on July 2, 1944, and the very next day a buzz bomb landed in front of their old quarters, destroying the building and killing 100 people. The Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band was extremely busy and Glenn wrote home that in one month they played at 35 different bases, while performing 40 radio broadcasts in their spare time.
Finally, on December 15, 1944, Glenn boarded a single engine C-64 Norseman aircraft to travel to Paris, France where he was to make arrangements for a Christmas broadcast. Tragically, the plane never reached France and was never found. The band, without Miller, performed the scheduled Christmas concert under the direction of Jerry Gray and continued to perform, playing their last concert on November 13, 1945 at the National Press Club dinner for President Truman in Washington, D.C. At that time, General Dwight Eisenhower and General Hap Arnold thanked the band for a job well done.
Glenn Miller will be remembered for many things; his musical style, showmanship, hard work, perseverance, and much more. But his patriotism in giving up his number one civilian band to enlist in the United States Army Air Corps, his pioneering efforts to modernize military bands and his supreme sacrifice for his country have caused him to be remembered as Clarinda’s and America’s favorite musical patriot.
It is Glenn Miller that I have focused on in this post because he gave up his career and ultimately his life for his country. But Benny Goodman did perform a service for our country, it was a Goodwill Tour of Russia in 1962 which was sponsored by the State Department. Upon his return he was called the “International Ambassador With Clarinet” by President John F. Kennedy. And, of course, no one can dispute the tremendous contributions that Benny Goodman made to music and America’s musical history.