"Sustain the Wings"
Noted for his big band swing music and specifically the "Glenn Miller Sound," American jazz musician Alton Glenn Miller entertained troops with catchy toe-tapping beats and sentinmental tunes during WWII. His orchestra was one of the most popular during the big band swing era. Miller was an exceptionally talented musician (he played the trombone), arranger, composer, and bandleader.
Glenn Miller grew up with music. His family moved multiple times, first from Clarinda, Iowa, where he was born in 1904, to Nebraska and then to Missouri. While he was in Missouri, Miller started playing the trombone in a town band. When his family moved again to Fort Morgan, Colorado, Miller joined his high school band in 1918 and cultivated his musical talents. He then went on to attend the University of Colorado in 1923, but soon left it in favor of joining various musical groups and bands. Miller first recorded under his own name in 1934, but without much immediate success; that success came 4 years later in 1938.
Then, “With the onset of WWII [in 1939], Glenn Miller willingly left behind his musical success to serve his country. [At 38, Miller was too old to be drafted, and first volunteered for the Navy but was told that they did not need his services.] In 1942, he enlisted in the US Army Air Force leaving behind civilian life but not his music. Appointed as a Captain in the Army Specialist Corps, he devoted himself to raising soldiers' morale by modernizing the army band. After completing basic training, Miller organized the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band, which has been acclaimed by some as his best musical group. Like Miller's previous endeavors, the Army Air Force Band was a great triumph. Miller and his group kept up a hectic schedule of tours and performances. During its time, the band gave over 800 performances, more than 300 of which were personal appearances. The other 500 were broadcasts heard by millions of listeners. Miller also participated in other broadcasts, serving as the host of 'Sustain the Wings,' a weekly radio show” (4). He wrote 70 top ten hits in 4 years (1939-1942), and gained great popularity with his unique “Glenn Miller Sound” for songs like "In the Mood," "A String of Pearls," "Little Brown Jug," and "Moonlight Serenade." As Miller himself said, "A band ought to have a sound all of its own. It ought to have a personality" (4).
July 28, 1945
US soldiers listen to a Saturday afternoon jam session by Glenn Miller's Band at Camp Herbert Tareyton near Le Havre, France. The Glenn Miller Band continued to play after Miller's death in 1944 until its members were discharged from service.
Miller also formed a network of service orchestras for the war effort. “In summarizing Miller's military career, General Jimmy Doolittle said, ‘next to a letter from home, [this] organization was the greatest morale builder in the European Theater of Operations’” (5).
In 1944 on December 15th, Miller was flying in a plane from the UK to get to a performance in Paris, France to play for soldiers who had recently liberated Paris. However, the plane disappeared while flying over the English Channel. Presumably, the plane crashed and both pilots and Miller were killed. It is unclear as to whether this occurrence was due to stormy weather conditions or to bombs, jettisoned by Allied bombers returning from an aborted mission, that may have inadvertently struck the plane (5). Miller was 40 years old; his status is Missing In Action (MIA).
Click here to see a modern performance of Miller's arrangement of "American Patrol;" watch for the cool maneuvers that the rows of musicians made with their instruments.
Click here to hear an original LP recording of Miller's arrangement of "American Patrol"