Saturday, February 16, 2013

From the 1941 Musical “Sun Valley Serenade”

The Glenn Miller Orchestra Performs "Chattanooga Choo Choo"

The “Chattanooga Choo Choo” is one of the first songs I remember hearing as a child. The following is a clip from the 1941 musical “Sun Valley Serenade” starring John Payne, Sonja Henie, Glenn Miller, Milton Berle, and Lynn Bari:

The scene includes two choruses of the song – sung first by Tex Beneke and The Modernaires followed by a song and dance rendition featuring Dorothy Dandridge and The Nicholas Brothers. Notice that the transition seems a bit awkward. The studio (20th Century Fox Pictures) at the time often made it easy for Southern movie exhibitors to delete sequences featuring black performers in mainstream movies.

Dorothy Dandridge would eventually become a leading lady. In 1954 she became the first African-American to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress in "Carmen Jones". In 1959 she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for "Porgy and Bess".

The Nicholas Brothers (Fayard and Harold) had a long and distinguish career. They began as stars on the jazz circuit during the glory days of the Harlem Renaissance. Later they performed on stage, in film and on television well into the 1990s. Both of them were married three times. Harold was first married to Dorothy Dandridge from 1942 to 1951. His last marriage was to Rigmor Alfredsson Newman, a producer and former Miss Sweden. Harold died in 2000 and Fayard in 2006.

The song (Chattanooga Choo Choo) was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original song in 1942. Glenn Miller’s recording of the song became the number one song in the United States on the same day that Japan attack the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941 and remained at the top of the Billboard Best Sellers chart for nine weeks. The 78-rpm was recorded on RCA Victor's Bluebird label and became the first certified gold record, selling over 1,200,000 copies.

In September 1942 at the age of 38 (too old to be drafted) Glenn Miller joined the Army Air Force. By 1944 he had attained the rank of Major and had form a 50-piece Army Air Force Band. That summer he took the band to England where he performed over 800 times for the troops. The Miller-led Army Air Force Orchestra also recorded a series of records with Dinah Shore at the Abbey Road Studios for EMI – the British and European distributor for RCA Victor at that time.

On December 15, 1944, while flying from the United Kingdom to Paris, France, to play for the Allied soldiers there, his single-engined plane, a UC-64 Norseman, disappeared over the English Channel. No trace of the plane or passengers was ever found.

In 1954 James Stewart played Glenn Miller in "The Glenn Miller Story". It was a massive box-office hit. It was nominated for three Academy Awards, winning an Oscar for Best Sound Recording. The soundtrack was also extremely successful, reaching number one on the Billboard album charts in 1954.

Eleven days ago, on the 5th of February,  2013, the last remaining member of the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Paul Tanner, died. He was 95 years old.

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