Alton Glenn Miller can arguable be regarded as on of America’s musical greats. He was a bandleader, musical arranger, composer and trombonist. Glen Miller was born in Clarinda, Iowa on the 1st March 1904. Growing up he lived and worked on a numbers of farms, because his parents made several moves during his early childhood, causing him to attend several schools as a young boy growing up.
His interest in music sparked at an early age and as a result the money he earned milking cows on the farms was saved to purchase his first. trombone. He eventually became sufficiently proficient to be able to join the school orchestra. Over time his taste in music changed and by the time he got to his senior year he was heavily into dance music. By this time he had sufficiently honed his skills and mastery of the trombone to form a band with a group of his school friends.
When he graduated in 1921 he decided to become a professional musician. He did badly at the Colorado University and eventually dropped out after failing 3 out of 5 subjects in his first semester, at which point he decided to drop-out and focus on making a career in the music industry.
In 1928 he sent for his high school sweetheart Helen Burger whom he married soon after her arrival and later they went on to adopted two daughters.
At first he worked as a trombonist in several bands, this went on for over ten years and composed numerous arrangements for many of the singing greats such as Dorothy Dandridge, Bing Crosby, Ethel Merman and Bill ‘Bo-jangles’ Robinson, during which time he was continually growing in stature and improving his skills.
In 1937 he formed his own band which eventually failed because the band did not have a distinct musical identity. Disillusioned, dejected and in need of a new direction, after some soul searching he decided to go back to the drawing board to try and create a ‘unique’ sound. He started by engaging a saxophonist Wilbur Schwartz and together they developed a fullness and richness of sound that was so distinct, no other later imitators have ever been able to completely replicate.
In 1939 Glenn Miller’s band began recording with RCA Victor, a Bluebird subsidiary and at the time they were being financed by businessman, Charlie Shribman. The injection of cash was welcomed because it gave the band the financial backing they needed to enable them to make personal appearances. This in turn increased their popularity and that same year Time magazine noted that their records were amongst one of the most played juke-box records in the US.
The next upward career move was the opportunity to appear in films. The first of which was ‘Sun Valley Serenade’ in 1941, ‘Orchestra Wives’ in 1942 and a third was scheduled entitled ‘Blind date’, which had to be shelved because he decided to volunteered to join the Navy.
Glenn Miller joined the military aged 39, whilst the career and popularity was at its peak. Because of his age, at first he was rejected by the Navy then he managed to persuaded the army to accept him. Eventually he was accepted and shortly thereafter he was transferred to the Army Air Force and asked to be put in charge of modernizing the army band. Whilst many accepted the idea he also met with some opposition from those who wanted to maintain the status quo.
Miller’s army career was short-lived spending 2 years only, when in December 1944 he was scheduled to fly from the United Kingdom to play for the soldiers who were stationed in France. His single engine plane took off from RAF Twinwood in Bedfordshire and disappeared without a trace in the English Channel. Neither survivors nor wreckage were ever found and his army status was recorded as ‘missing in action’.
After his disappearance the Glenn Miller band was decommissioned and returned to the US. Many bands have tried unsuccessful to imitate his style, some coming closer than others. Today his legacy lives on, there are bands still touring the United States of America, Europe and the United Kingdom, keeping alive the musical tradition of one of the most popular band leaders of all time.