The Mystique of Glenn Miller
By Bill Miller
Alton Glenn Miller was born in Clarinda, Iowa 96 years ago. The plain unassuming frame home birthplace has become the site of international attention for big band lovers year round, but especially during the second week of June. The Glenn Miller Festival continues to perpetuate the magic that Miller left behind when is aircraft was lost over the English Channel some 55 years ago.
Glenn Miller’s civilian big band career lasted just six years. At the peak of his career, Miller felt he should do more for his country. He entered the Army in October of 1942 to form what would ultimately become the nation’s most popular service band. Miller entered the U.S. Army as a Captain and was later promoted to Major. Despite strong resistance and Army red tape, he built a military band with a whole new musical concept.
The 25th Annual Glenn Miller Festival at Clarinda, from June 8th through June 11th is just a portion of the effect the Glenn Miller’s legacy has had on us. It is also the “Mecca” for fans of the “Miller Mystique.” The 1976 festival was a rather plain gathering on the Miller birthplace lawn. The 2000 festival will attract thousands…from all over the world. They will see concerts, dancing, parades, and attend seminars.
The Swing Time Band from Austria, Bill Baker’s big band from the Netherlands, the United States’ Airmen of Note, and the world class Tamana, Japan Girl’s High School Band make up the nucleus of the musical talent at the festival.
Seminars, panels, and speakers will include Paul Tanner, a member of Miller’s civilian band, Glenn’s son Steve, Alan Cass, the director of the Glenn Miller archives at the University of Colorado, Pat Friday, the “ghost singer” for Lynn Bari in two of Miller’s movies, and Whitney Thomas. Thomas played trumpet in the Miller Army Air Force Band, and was the last band member to speak to Miller before he boarded that tragic flight to Paris.
The Glenn Miller estate has permitted the establishment of an official Glenn Miller Band after World War II, with Glenn’s brother Herb leading the band for a few years. Other leaders included Tex Beneke, Buddy DeFranco, and Ray McKinley. McKinley held the record as the person who led the orchestra the longest time until Larry O’Brien came along when the movie “The Glenn Miller Story” with Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson helped create a new generation of Glenn Miller fans.
O’Brien continues to this day a leader of the Glenn Miller Orchestra. I have had the pleasure of seeing and hearing the band in Wichita and aboard the QE2 with a group of over 100 Bill Miller Show listeners from all over the country. It was aboard the QE2 that Larry told us of one of the band’s sold-out appearance in Japan when Larry received a ceramic likeness of Mr. and Mrs. Glenn Miller from the city’s mayor. It was a perfect likeness of Jimmy Stewart and June Allyson! Larry thanked the mayor, but never told him of the goof.
It will be my pleasure again to see and hear the Glenn Miller orchestra aboard the SS Norway in November as we host listeners of the “Bill Miller Show” from all over the country on another big band cruise. We’ll see swing dancers from their teens through their eighties, dancing to “In The Mood” and “String of Pearls.” It’s more of that “Miller Mystique.” There is yet another estate authorized Miller band in Europe and another performing with Bobby Vinton in Branson.
I’m especially impressed with some material that I recently received from Canada. It’s the “Canadian Tribute to Glenn Miller” and it’s got all of the great Miller instrumentation using the recording techniques of the year 2000. John McNab, with the Fabulous Moonbeams performs a realistic re-creation of Bob Eberly and the Modernaires. The Canadian Tribute to Glenn Miller was such a hit at Clarinda, Iowa that they have already been invited back for the 2001 festival.
The southwest Iowa community of Clarinda isn’t the only place to claim part of the Miller history. North Platte, Nebraska is where Glenn’s family moved and where brother Herb was born. A thirty-five mile stretch of Highway 97 between North Plate and Tryan was recently named the Glenn Miller Memorial Highway.
A bit of Glenn Miller trivia. Tex Beneke, Miller’s saxophone playing singer was not in, nor was he mentioned in the movie “The Glenn Miller Story.” Some will swear that he was in the movie. He was not. But Harry Morgan (Col. Potter of MASH fame) was. It may be fun to rent the movie, but don’t expect much historical accuracy. You can expect great music and, of course, everybody enjoys Jimmy Stewart’s performance as Glenn Miller.
What makes the Miller Mystique? Is it the fact that Miller’s death came when it did? Is it that distinct Miller orchestration and arrangements with his reed section, and the clarinet-lead sound that he perfected? Whatever it is, the sound and musical style he invented must be rated as one of those having a great effect on the music of the Big Band Era.
I will be in Clarinda with my tape recorder this June, absorbing some of that Miller Mystique. And if you’re planning to make the trip, bring your camper or be prepared to spend the night in a motel some distance from Clarinda. You’ll be joining people from all over the country in paying tribute to the late Alton Glenn Miller, Major; U.S. Army Air Force.
Bill Miller’s nationally syndicated radio show can be heard in greater Kansas City on KCSL (1140 a.m.) from 5:00-8:00 PM every Friday. For more information, call Bill at 913-397-9651.