Thursday, April 30, 2009

It's Chesterfield Time!

In 1939 Glenn Miller began His 'Moonlight Serenade' radio series for Chesterfield which aired on CBS three times a week. The civilian band’s final Chesterfield show aired on Sept. 24 1942. Harry James guested for a trumpet solo that night. If you do the math he did about 400 shows for Chesterfield. Glenn insisted that they record the programs to acetates, it's that material that I edit down to airchecks and present today.

Glen played trombone in college and joined the red Nichols band in 1930. He played in orchestra pits on Broadway with gene Krupa and Benny Goodman. He was skilled enough to land a gig with the Dorsey brothers Orchestra, then the ray Noble Orchestra and he began composing some of his own works. In Dallas he formed his first band in 1937 and it tanked. He went back to New York to try again.

His second try did significantly better. By 1938 he was recording for Bluebird records. Even Time magazine noticed how many jukeboxes his records were in. Some of these 78s sole more than 100,000 copies in the first week. That's huge.

Those numbers got him a CBS deal and a Chesterfield Cigarettes sponsorship. The program ran on Tuesday through Thursday at 10 p.m. The original program paired his orchestra with The Andrews Sisters, but they stayed with the program for only the first 13 weeks; after that Glenn was on his own. The program did very well. Regular guests included The Modernaires, Marion Hutton, Tex Beneke and Ray Erberle. Don Wilson was usually the announcer but in the early days paul Douglas also did the honors. Those first shows came from a CBS playhouse on 53rd street in New York City, but a string of shows in 1939 were live at the Cafe Rouge of The Hotel Pennsylvania. They moved the show to Chicago and the Civic theatre, then back to New York.

In 1943 WWII broke out. Jazz became a point of American pride. Japan formally banned the genre. Miller decided to join the millitary as a musician. He sought and received a military commission and started his 45-piece Army Air Force Orchestra. His last Chesterfield show was held at the Central Theater in Passaic, N.J. After three years ogether the night was ta tad emotional. Vocalist Marion Hutton walked off stage in tears. Most of the orchestra was drunk.

Chesterfield moved on and started the the Chesterfield Supper Club on NBC with the Ted Steele Orchestra and Perry Como. Miller went through basic training, and could only select other cadets for the orchestra. In June 1943, Miller and his AAF band began a weekly radio series, "I Sustain the Wings," broadcast coast to coast on NBC. I'll lay out that 2nd half of the story another day.