Glenn Miller, king of swing | Music | DW | 28.02.2014
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Glenn Miller, king of swing

His music hits you straight in the legs. Even today, the typical Glenn Miller sound is part of the standard repertoire for many big band groups. The swinging hero of the dance floor was born 110 years ago.

When Alton Glenn Miller came into the world on March 1, 1904 in the little town of Clarinda, Iowa, his parents probably expected he'd carry on their name on the family farm. But the boy was crazy about music. Saving up the first bit of money he earned milking cows, he bought a trombone at age 13. Not long afterwards, he was playing with the local orchestra, and in high school, he and some friends started his first band.

To learn a "respectable" trade, he enrolled at the University of Colorado at Boulder but constantly skipped class and didn't make it beyond the third semester. Instead, he spent his time playing in various ensembles. The first serious gigs came in 1926 with the Ben Pollack Band. Later, he would play with the Dorsey Brothers and Benny Goodman.

Then, in 1935, his own hit "Solo Hop" made it to Number 7 in the charts.

The first gold record in music history

Glenn Miller, holding a trombone (c) picture-alliance/dpa

Glenn Miller "swang" from trombone player to world star

But Glenn Miller and his orchestra had their real breakthrough at the end of the 1930s. At the popular Glen Island Casino in New Rochelle, New York, where the group had signed on for a three-month residency, people were standing in long lines to get to dance to their music.

Before long, he had conquered America. He was the king of the dance halls and clubs, and swing was all over the airwaves. Nobody sold as many albums between 1939 and 1943 as Glenn Miller.

But the sound for which he's famous is said to have come about by accident. After his first chair trumpet player injured his lip in concert, the clarinet took over the lead voice. This unusual feature developed into the Glenn Miller Orchestra's trademark - a sound that's not gone forgotten in the 21st century. Songs like "In the Mood," "Blueberry Hill," "Pennsylvania 6-500" and "Tuxedo Junction" are undying favorites.

Glenn Miller, performing on stage with his band in front of soldiers (C) picture-alliance

Entertaining the troops in France: Glenn Miller and the Army Air Force Band

For "Chattannooga Choo Choo," Miller scored the very first golden record in music history. However, with the exception of "Moonlight Serenade," the musician didn't compose any of his own big hits - though that never stood in the way of his success.

Disappearance and swirling rumors

When the US declared war against Nazi Germany, the patriotic Glenn Miller, a self-described enemy of the Nazis, voluntarily enlisted to go to the front. As bandleader of the Army Force Orchestra, he collected the best musicians he could find in the military and set about entertaining the troops. After celebrated concerts in Scotland, France and England, Glenn Miller got into an airplane on December 15, 1944, from London to Paris.

A fighter plane in World War II (c) RAF

Did he go down with the plane?

But the plane never arrived, and the search for it remained fruitless. Rumors began to swirl about his death. It remains unclear to the present if ice on the wings caused the vessel to plummet, or perhaps it was shot down in the fog by accident by Allied troops. There are even hints that he made it to Paris but died in a bordello of a heart attack.

There's no doubt about one thing, though. Glenn Miller shaped the golden era of swing in the 1930s and 40s like hardly anyone else.

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