Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman: The Kings of Swing and Jazz

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Introduction to the Lives of Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman
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Glenn Miller was born in Clarinda, Iowa on March 1, 1904 but was raised in Nebraska and Missouri. He was the second of four children of Lewis Elmer Miller, and Mattie Lou (Carender) Miller. The name his parents initially gave him was Alton Glenn Miller, however he preferred Glenn Miller. Throughout the 1930's and 1940's, Glenn Miller was making music with his trusty trombone to the enjoyment of many. Music was his passion and life, and it is evident that his music continues to be enjoyed to this day. -Nicole

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Benny Goodman was a jazz musician in the 1930s who was known for his flawless clarinet solos and magnificent symphonies. Benny Goodman was born May 30, 1909 in Chicago. He was among eleven other siblings born into a poor family. In 1962, Goodman's orchestra became the first jazz band to tour the Soviet Union since the 1920s. Not only were his Orchestra's members diverse, they were unique too. His music was widely enjoyed throughout his life and brought joy to people's hearts. -Joey

Early Years

Glenn Miller and his family moved from state to state in the mid west various times while he was a child. After he was born, his parents moved their family from Iowa to Nebraska, then to Missouri, and eventually settled into Fort Morgan, Colorado ("The Official Site of Glenn Miller" paragraph 2). He was able to develop his musical talents in each of these states. Glenn Miller was well known for playing the trombone, but he did not take up the trombone until he was twelve. His father gave him a mandolin during their stay in Nebraska, but he soon traded it for an old cornet. While in Missouri, Glenn Miller exchanged his cornet for the trombone in order to play in the town band. (Carlin 55). He loved the trombone, and spent a great deal of time playing it. In fact, Glenn Miller's mother once worried “about the amount of time Glenn spent playing the trombone" ("The Official Site of Glenn Miller" paragraph 2). By 1918, the Miller family had moved to Fort Morgan, Colorado and Miller was attending high school. He was able to promote his trombone skills after moving by joining his high school's band. -Nicole

Benny Goodman was born May 30, 1909 in Chicago. He was among eleven other siblings born into a poor family. He first started playing the clarinet when he was only ten years of age and enjoyed it so much that he took lessons. He received training “in 1919 at the Kehelah Jacob Synagogue and the next year joined the boys club band at Jane Adams’s Hull house” (Driggs Paragraph 1). This training helped prepare him to be the best clarinetist in the world. In 1921, “Goodman made his professional debut at the Central Park Theatre in Chicago with an imitation of Ted Lewis” (Driggs Paragraph 2). This was the beginning of a career that put a spark in people’s lives during the Great Depression, World War II, and many different sorrowful events in the world.


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The many years of practicing the trombone benefited Glenn Miller in his later years. He was able to play trombone in numerous bands between 1926 and 1936, among the musical groups he played in were the bands of Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Red Nichols, Ray Noble, Ben Pollack, and Freddy Rich (Hentoff paragraph 2). By 1938, he decided to create his own orchestra, which he called the Glenn Miller Orchestra. The band was made up of various people and instruments, other than Glenn Miller and his trombone, such as the saxophone and clarinet. Using these instruments, they "played smoothly danceable ballads and crisply driving swing numbers... Miller's band featured a distinctive sound that he developed by blending a clarinet with four saxophones" (Hentoff paragraph 1) This sound began to attract band bookers, and by March of 1939, he received his big break when his band was to play a summer engagement at the Glen Island Casino in New Rochelle, New York, with its frequent coast-to-coast radio broadcasts ("Glenn Miller" paragraph 4). As a result, the Glenn Miller Orchestra kept gaining popularity and success. "For three years, 1939-1942, his orchestra outstripped all competitors as the most popular recording and performing act in the U.S." (Slonimsky 2447).

The 1930s tended to be a difficult time for many people, coming out of the Depression for example, so music lifted people’s spirits. Jazz was a big part of life in the 1930s because people could dance to it and enjoyed it. The type of music that Benny Goodman played was called Swing. A song by Duke Ellington in 1932 called “‘It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing’ was the song that gave the music and the era it’s name” (Caponi 9). Benny Goodman was one of the main figures in this era with his orchestras and bands. Sadly, there was a lot of segregation in the 1930s. On afternoons, “It was common to hold a dance for white patrons on Friday night and another for black dancers on Saturday’’ (Caponi 10). Whites and African Americans were commonly separated for these events, but thanks to Benny Goodman he helped break the color barrier. When Goodman was starting his career,“At Hammond’s urging he became the first white jazz musician to break the color barrier” (Carlin 30). This was huge for jazz and integrated many people who realized they could all come together and listen to music with each other. Also, Chicago was filled with “Gangsters, Speakeasies, and white jazz” (Carlin 49). It was sometimes tough living in Chicago during the prohibition because there was so much crime. The 1930s was a bright time for Jazz but a dark time for the United States. -Joey

Later Years
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Glenn Miller's Army Air Force Band: July 1944

Glenn Miller's progress was stopped by the arrival of World War II. Although Miller was not required to join the army, he still felt an obligation to serve his country. Less than five years after the creation of the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Miller played in his last engagement on September 27, 1942 ("Glenn Miller" paragraph 5). Despite the fact that he could not directly engage in fighting, Miller was still able to figure out a way serve the country: by creating an Army Air Force Band and providing entertainment to soldiers. The entertainment he provided through his music would lift the spirits of the soldiers who fought in the war. In the spring of 1943, Glenn Miller organized a service band in the Army Air Force (Slonimsky 2448).
This service band was called the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band.

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Missing Air Crew Report for Lieutenant Colonel John R.S. Morgan, Major Glenn Miller, and Flight Officer Norman F. Baessell, 01/08/1945

His band was sent from America to Britain in 1944 (Hayes 4). While in Britain the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band performed for troops at war-bond rallies. In the December of 1944, Miller disappeared during a flight to newly liberated Paris, and was never found (Randel 419). He was only 40 years old.
Benny Goodman Was a Figure of the 1930s with his inspirational music that he gave in concerts and made into records. He was a classic clarinetist with a unique style unlike any other. It is said, “As a jazz clarinetist, Goodman had no peer. His flawless solo improvisations set standards of excellence for jazz performance” (Driggs Paragraph 15). Sadly, Goodman passed away June 13, 1986 from cardiac arrest. We will remember Goodman fro his talents and aspirations as a musician and that he changed the way people look at jazz forever. -Joey

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Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman played an important role of providing Entertainment during the 1930s and 1940s. Jazz and Swing were the most influential genres of the era. This is because there were many hardships that Americans experienced, but uplifting music such as jazz and swing is what helped them go through it, and no one played it better than Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman. In fact, Glenn Miller's music "bridged the gap between jazz and pop," (Carlin 55). -Nicole

Glenn Miller's Connection to History
Upon the arrival of World War II, Glenn Miller felt morally obliged to serve his country, and what better way for him to do so other than provide musical entertainment for the hard working Allied soldiers? With his Army Air Force Band, he traveled through war-ridden Europe, played at many war-bond rallies, and continued to lift people's spirits. Although he was not on the war-front, he was still very well in danger, especially while traveling, because at the time Europe was filled with warfare and nearly no one was safe. This was most likely the cause of Miller's mysterious disappearance. He gave up his life to serve, and the Major is remembered. -Nicole

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Bronze Bust of Major Glenn Miller in Bedford, England
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“America means freedom and there’s no expression of freedom quite so sincere as music”. -Glenn Miller

Benny Goodman's Connection to History

Benny Goodman lifted the Spirits of people in WWII with his famous orchestras and music. He broke the color barrier for jazz by becoming one of the first famous white jazz musicians. He also toured the Soviet Union to show American music and to help break the tension between the two countries. Benny Goodman will be remembered forever -Joey

Connections to Health and Social
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Throughout the 1930s, many people influenced the American public through their inspiring qualities, talents, and decision-making skills. Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman are ideal examples of this kind of influential figure during their decade. With the up-beat music they made, the decisions they made in order to gain success, and their honorary name as the "kings of swing and jazz," they helped play an important role in maintaining the well-being of the American people. -Nicole

Glenn Miller proved himself to be a remarkable example of the area of interaction Health and social education by brightening people's spirits, shifted the popular definition of music, and made decisions that followed his morals. During the 1930s, people believed that jazz and pop music were two completely different things. Glenn Miller's band played jazz and swing, but was also classified as a pop band because of the success and popularity of their music. Miller's band was able to bridge the gap between jazz and pop music, but changing the definition of music was not the only impact Glenn Miller had on the American people. During the times Glenn Miller was performing in his orchestra, Americans were often feeling low due to the economic slump. Since Miller's music had a very happy and up-beat tone to it, listening to it gave people the ability to be more positive When war came he felt obliged to serve his country so he decided to leave his orchestra, although the orchestra was at it's highest level of success, and join the army because of his morals. There, he continued to brighten peoples' lives by entertaining them with his music. Glenn Miller is truly one of the several significant people in the 1930s that helped change the dark times of the decade and the future of the country.-Nicole

Like Glenn Miller, Goodman used music to brighten peoples' lives in the 1930s and 1940s. He was also able to beat segregation with his Swing music and he was able to travel all over to enlighten peoples' day. In Goodman's early career, jazz was popular among mostly African Americans but when goodman came into play it was integrated. He worked his way up to become one of jazz's huge stars and was known everywhere. Eventually he traveled over to the Soviet union to play for the first time. Jazz was new to the Soviet Union but he integrated it into their society. Goodman was truly a figure in the 1930s society. -Joey

Connections to IB Learner Profile Traits

Glenn Miller

Glenn Miller can be classified with the IB learner trait of caring, and has proved it many times:
  • Left a highly successful career solely because he wanted to help and serve his country.
  • Placed himself in harms way to serve, and was strongly dedicated
  • Put the needs of his country before the needs of himself
  • Used his talents in order to make a positive difference to the American people and Soldiers -Nicole

Benny Goodman
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Benny Goodman is among the risk takers trait because he was courageous touring the Soviet Union in 1962. It was a great risk at the time to tour the Soviet Union because there had not been an American band over there since the 1920s. Tensions where high after World War I and anything could have happened to Goodman and his Orchestra. -Joey

Top Hits

Glenn Miller

  • In The Mood - 1939

  • Little Brown Jug - 1939

  • Tuxedo Junction - 1940

  • Chattanooga Choo Choo - 1941

  • Moonlight Cocktail - 1942

  • A String of Pearls - 1942

  • Sun Valley Serenade (Movie) - 1941

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