American Musician: Glenn Miller

Glenn Miller billboard | Courtesy of Wikimedia
Glenn Miller billboard | Courtesy of Wikimedia

Glenn Miller was a legendary bandleader and an American music icon. Some might think he was an ordinary musician, but his unique style in music and how he composed his sound set him apart from others. During the 1930’s and early 1940’s, Miller helped change music and was one of the greatest bandleaders during the swing era. Some of his greatest hits include, “Moonlight Serenade” and “Tuxedo Junction.”1

Glenn Miller President's Birthday Ball 1942 | Courtesy of Wikimedia
Glenn Miller President’s Birthday Ball 1942 | Courtesy of Wikimedia

Lewis Elmer Miller and Mattie Lou Miller were married in 1898. Mattie was a school teacher and very well known in her hometown of Clarinda, Iowa. In 1901, they had their first child, Elmer Deane. The Millers welcomed their second child, Alton Glenn Miller, on March 1, 1904.2 In 1906, the Millers moved to Tyron, Nebraska and took up residence on 640 acres under the Kincaid Act of 1904. At that time the Millers lived in a sod house that was constructed from thickly rooted prairie grass. Glenn’s mother would often spend time singing songs with her children.3 The songs fostered a passion for music in young Glenn. In 1913, Glenn’s third bother, John Herbert, was born and then in 1916, his sister, Emma Irene was welcomed into the family. The Millers moved around until finally settling in Fort Morgan, Colorado in 1918. There, Miller attended high school, and in his senior year he played football. Through the constant moving and Miller’s extracurricular activities at school, he managed to hold onto his passion for music. A new style of music, Dance Band Music, was emerging and it sparked an interest in Miller.4 He graduated from Fort Morgan High School in 1921 but instead of attending his graduation ceremony, he traveled to Laramie, Wyoming to perform at a gig with a band called Boyd Center. It was then that Miller decided he wanted to be a famous musician.5

In 1922, Miller worked with the Holly Moyer Orchestra in Boulder, Colorado, where he played the saxophone and clarinet. While with the orchestra, he made the decision to attend the University of Colorado, where he studied music for two years.6 In 1924, Miller opted to forgo his college education so that he could instead focus solely on arranging and composing music. He left Boulder and decided to move to Los Angeles, California. The move was motivated by his belief that Los Angeles offered much greater opportunities in music.

Fig. 2 Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons - Glenn Miller Orchestra Band
Glenn Miller Orchestra Band | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

While living in Los Angeles, he joined the Ben Pollack Orchestra, in which he played the trombone. In the years 1928 to 1936, Miller was an independent musician and played with several bands, such as Red Nichols, Paul Ash, The Dorsey Brothers, Benny Goodman, Ray Noble, and Smith Ballew.7 He formed the Miller Orchestra in 1937 and gave his band a unique sound by having the clarinet play the melody and the saxophone play the octave lower than normal.8 In the spring of 1938, the Miller Orchestra played a show at the Meadowbrook Ballroom in Cedar Grove, New Jersey. Later that year the Miller Orchestra was called to play a number of shows during the summer at the prestigious Glen Island Casino in Rochelle, New York.  These gigs offered the band greater exposure to the American public via radio broadcasts. In the fall of 1939, the Miller Orchestra did a radio broadcast for Chesterfield cigarettes on CBS that featured them three times a week for 15 minutes. The popularity of the band resulted in a big bump in ratings for the broadcast. The band was offered recording sessions and movie roles, and was featured in two films, Sun Valley Serenade in 1941 and Orchestra Wives in 1942.9

Miller’s first hit that sold over a million records was “Moonlight Serenade” in 1939. His band had many other hits, such as “In the Mood,” “Sun Rise Serenade,” “Perfidia,” and “Tuxedo Junction.”10 Miller composed all his music himself, and by creating a unique sound, his music became very popular for swing dance. He teamed up with singer and saxophonist, Tex Beneke, to produce the hits, “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and “I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo.” One of Miller’s greatest hits was his instrumental cornet solo, “A String of Pearls.” This song continues to be one of his greatest composed songs to date.11

Fig. 3 Courtesy of Wikimedia - Glenn Miller
Glenn Miller in his Air Force uniform | Courtesy of Wikimedia

In 1942, after accumulating fame and wealth, Miller made the choice to serve his country and  joined the United States Army. He became a captain and formed the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band, which consisted of fifty men whose mission was to give the troops hope and instill in them a love for music.12 His time in the military was quite busy and his band played shows on thirty-five different bases, while also performing for radio broadcasts. Miller requested for overseas duty so that his band could uplift the soldiers’ hearts with music. His request was granted and his band arrived in London. On July, 22, 1944, a bomb landed in their quarters causing the deaths of one hundred soldiers.13

Miller wanted to do so much for his fellow man, so he set out to raise millions of dollars in war bond drives and fundraisers to help the cause. Miller’s band performed their last concert on November 13, 1945 at the National Press Club at a dinner for President Truman in Washington, D.C. The President honored Miller and his band with special thanks for performing and doing an amazing job.14 On December 15, 1944 Miller boarded a plane set to travel from Washington to Paris through London for a radio broadcast. Sadly, his plane never arrived in France after stopping in London, and neither the plane nor his body were ever found. To this day, Glenn Miller’s death is still a mystery.15

Glenn Miller touched the lives of many with his unique musical abilities, and because of this he will never be forgotten. He will always be remembered for the great music he wrote, composed, and arranged as well as for his duty as a captain in the United States Army. Ten years after his death, the autobiographical movie, The Glenn Miller Story was produced and shared details about Millers life and legacy.16 Today, when one of Glenn Miller’s famous songs is heard, it takes the listener back to a time where the night can be danced away.

  1.  American National Biography, 2010, s.v. “Glenn Miller,” by Barbara L. Tischler.
  2. American National Biography, 2010, s.v. “Glenn Miller,” by Barbara L. Tischler.
  3. Biography and History: All Music, 2016, s.v. “Glenn Miller,” by William Ruhlmann.
  4. Biography and History: All Music, 2016, s.v. “Glenn Miller,” by William Ruhlmann.
  5. American National Biography, 2010, s.v. “Glenn Miller,” by Barbara L. Tischler.
  6. American National Biography, 2010, s.v. “Glenn Miller,” by Barbara L. Tischler.
  7. American National Biography, 2010, s.v. “Glenn Miller,” by Barbara L. Tischler.
  8. American National Biography, 2010, s.v. “Glenn Miller,” by Barbara L. Tischler.
  9.  American National Biography, 2010, s.v. “Glenn Miller,” by Barbara L. Tischler.
  10. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016, s.v. “Glenn Miller”.
  11. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016, s.v. “Glenn Miller”.
  12. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016, s.v. “Glenn Miller.”
  13. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016, s.v. “Glenn Miller”.
  14. Encyclopedia Britannica, 2016, s.v. “Glenn Miller”.
  15. American National Biography, 2010, s.v. “Glenn Miller,” by Barbara L. Tischler.
  16. American National Biography, 2010, s.v. “Glenn Miller,” by Barbara L. Tischler.

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This Post Has 38 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Marina Castro

    I love Glenn Miller’s music! Everything about his art is so iconic. I enjoyed a lot reading about him and the art he created. The music of the 1940s is probably the only good thing that came out of that decade. Other than that, the decade was just filled with war and bad stuff. It always inspires me when art revolutionizes the world.

  2. Avatar
    Alexis Martinez

    When I was in choir and band we were taught about Glenn Miller so I have always had an appreciation for him and his music. He created beautiful music but I never knew he created so much happiness especially for the men serving their country. This article was very well written and it left me wanting to read more about him.

  3. Avatar
    Sienna Guerra

    I love music and listening to all types of music. I have maybe heard of the name Glenn Miller maybe twice. Knowing there is a story and background of his life many did not know behind the music he makes with his saxophone, clarinet, and trumpet.I also did not know that he used his music in order to cheer up the men at war. It is nice reading that he brought his music along the way to lighten up the war situations.

  4. Avatar
    Hanadi Sonouper

    Before reading this article, I did not have prior knowledge of this particular musician. He was a remarkable man who was a big American musician, arranger, composer, and bandleader in the swing era. He received praise from fellow musicians much like Louis Armstrong, and Frank Sinatra, both talented artist valued his work and credited miller with giving him helpful advice. I commend the author for writing a strong article that detailed Glen Millers life, and outlined to show his success and scary moments in his life.

  5. Avatar
    Maricela Guerra

    Glenn Miller seemed like a very talented and noble man, he is someone that people around the world should know his story. He seemed so happy with music, he went to school and graduated. He did his music, and even served for his country. He was the american dream of a person. Someone that did it all and didn’t let life hold him back.

  6. Avatar
    Alexandra Lopez

    I had no previous knowledge of who this article was about. Upon reading it, I learned more and more about this influential Glenn Miller. I found it very interesting that he studied music and formed a band. It’s amazing when I read about people who follow their dreams. What was most influential was his time serving for our country. Not only is he a talented musician, he’s a heroic musician. I’ve never read about any artist who’s served in the military or anything for that matter. It’s truly heartwarming. Glenn is an American patriot.

  7. Avatar
    Reese Lujan

    Being in a band I learned to appreciate the art of music and the composer’s style and effort he put into working with orchestras to piece together the compositions. A lot of time and effort has to be put in and the way that Glenn Miller went above and beyond with his music style is what makes it even more appreciable.

  8. Avatar
    Arianna Kennet

    Glenn Miller was a patriot who lived a great life what many would could the American dream. He had a passion for music, studying it in college and creating a band that was successful enough to be broadcasted nationally as well as they locked in deals to play for multiple movies. However to me the most interesting part of his life that caught my attention as well as which really shows who he is as a person is his decision to serve in the military. He served for multiple years as a captain after he has made his money in music. He performed his last concert for the president of U.S. He used his life to do his duty as a fellow man as well as an American.

  9. Avatar
    Didier Cadena

    Before reading this article, I had no idea who Glen Miller was, but I am glad that I do now. His story of loving music and do his best to uplift the spirits of those who were at war is really admirable. He seemed like a great person, so it was sad to hear that he was never found. The article does a great job of introducing Miller and tell his story to someone who was unfamiliar with him.

  10. Avatar
    Destiny Leonard

    I have always considered myself a fan of big band music, however despite being a fan of Glenn Miller myself I never realized what his life was like. I had no idea That he went missing and was never found. It’s funny how as time goes on details about a person’s life or death which were at one point so popular eventually fades and it almost becomes knowledge which is somewhat forgotten unless a person specifically seeks this information. Great Article!

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