Glenn Miller was born in Clarinda, Iowa on March 1, 1904, the son of Mattie Lou (n?e Cavender) and Lewis Elmer Miller. He went to grade school in North Platte, Nebraska. In 1915, Miller's family moved to Grant City, Missouri. Around this time, Miller was given his first trombone and then played in the town orchestra. In 1918, the Miller family moved again, this time to Fort Morgan, Colorado where Glenn went to high school.
During his senior year, Miller became very interested in a new style of music called "dance band music". Miller enjoyed this music so much that he and some classmates decided to start their own band. By the time Miller graduated from high school in 1921, he had decided he wanted to become a professional musician.
In 1923, Miller entered the University of Colorado where he joined Sigma Nu Fraternity, but spent most of his time away from school, attending auditions and playing any gigs he could get, most notably with Boyd Senter's band in Denver. He dropped out of school after failing three out of five classes one semester, and decided to concentrate on making a career as a professional musician. He later studied the Schillinger technique with Joseph Schillinger, who is credited with helping Miller create the "Miller sound", and under whose tutelage he himself composed what became his signature theme, "Moonlight Serenade."
In 1926, Miller toured with several groups and landed a good spot in Ben Pollack's group in Los Angeles. During his stint with Pollack, Miller had the opportunity to write several musical arrangements of his own. In 1928, when the band arrived in New York City, he sent for and married his college sweetheart, Helen Burger. He was a member of Red Nichols's orchestra in 1930, and because of Nichols, played in the pit bands of two Broadway shows, Strike Up the Band and Girl Crazy, his bandmates included Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa. "The consensus there was that Miller was no more than an average trombonist." Despite this, during the late 1920s and early 1930s, Miller managed to earn a living working as a freelance trombonist in several bands. In November of 1929, an original vocalist named Red McKenzie hired Glenn to play on two records that are now considered to be jazz classics: "Hello, Lola" and "If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight". "Not only were [the two songs Miller recorded] considered major musical items, but they also represented one of the major breakthroughs in blacks and whites playing together." [Simon 55] Besides Glenn were clarinetist Pee Wee Russell, guitarist Eddie Condon, drummer Gene Krupa and Coleman Hawkins on tenor saxophone.
In the mid-1930s, Miller also worked as a trombonist and arranger in The Dorsey Brothers ill-fated co-led orchestra. In 1935, he assembled an American orchestra for British bandleader Ray Noble, developing the arrangement of lead clarinet over four saxophones that eventually became the sonic keynote of his own big band. Members of the Noble band included future bandleader Claude Thornhill, Bud Freeman and Charlie Spivak.
Glenn Miller compiled several musical arrangements before forming his first band in 1937. The band failed to distinguish itself from the many others of the era, and eventually broke up. Benny Goodman said in 1976, "In late 1937, before his band became popular, we were both playing in Dallas. Glenn was pretty dejected and came to see me. He asked, 'What do you do? How do you make it?' I said, 'I don't know, Glenn. You just stay with it."
 Success from 1938 to 1942
Discouraged, Miller returned to New York. He realized that he needed to develop a unique sound, and decided to make the clarinet play a melodic line with a tenor saxophone on the same note, with three other saxophones harmonized within a single octave. George Simon discovered a saxophonist named Wilbur Schwartz for Glenn Miller. Miller hired Schwartz, but instead had him play the lead clarinet. "Willie's tone and way of playing provided a fullness and richness so distinctive that none of the later Miller imitators could ever accurately reproduce the Miller sound." [Simon 122] With this new sound combination, the Miller band found success. Miller was not the first to try this style, but he was the most successful at refining it and making it key to almost his entire repertoire.
In September 1938, the Miller band began making recordings for the RCA Victor Bluebird Records subsidiary. In the spring of 1939, the band's fortunes improved with a date at the Meadowbrook Ballroom in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, and more dramatically at the Glen Island Casino in New Rochelle, New York. With the Glen Island date, the band began a huge rise in popularity. In 1939, Time magazine noted: "Of the twelve to 24 discs in each of today's 300,000 U.S. jukeboxes, from two to six are usually Glenn Miller's." There were record-breaking recordings such as "Tuxedo Junction", which sold 115,000 copies in the first week. 1939's huge success culminated with the Miller band in concert at Carnegie Hall on October 6, with Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman, and Fred Waring also the main attractions.
From 1939 to 1942, Miller's band was featured three times a week during a broadcast for Chesterfield cigarettes. On February 10, 1942, RCA Victor presented Miller with the first gold record for "Chattanooga Choo-Choo". "Chattanooga Choo Choo" was performed by the Miller orchestra with his singers Gordon "Tex" Beneke, Paula Kelly and the vocal group, the Modernaires. Other singers with the civilian orchestra included Marion Hutton, Ray Eberle and to a smaller extent, Kay Starr, Ernie Caceres, Dorothy Claire and Jack Lathrop.
In 2004, Glenn Miller orchestra bassist Herman "Trigger" Alpert explained the band's success: "Miller had America's music pulse.[...] He knew what would please the listeners." Although Miller had massive popularity, many jazz critics of the time had their misgivings, believing that the band's endless rehearsals and "letter-perfect playing" diminished excitement and feeling from performances. They also felt that Miller's brand of swing shifted popular music away from the "hot" jazz bands of Benny Goodman and Count Basie towards commercial novelty instrumentals and vocal numbers. Miller was often criticized for being too commercial. His answer to the criticism was, "I don't want a jazz band". Many modern jazz critics still harbour similar antipathy toward Miller. In an article written by Gary Giddins for The New Yorker in 2004, Giddins felt that these early critics erred in denigrating Glenn Miller's music, and that the popular opinion of the time should hold greater sway. The article states: "Miller exuded little warmth on or off the bandstand, but once the band struck up its theme, audiences were done for: throats clutched, eyes softened. Can any other record match "Moonlight Serenade" for its ability to induce a Pavlovian slaver in so many for so long?" Miller and his band appeared in two Hollywood films, 1941's, Sun Valley Serenade and 1942's Orchestra Wives, the latter featuring Jackie Gleason playing a part as the group's bassist. Miller insisted on a believable script before he'd go before Twentieth-Century Fox cameras. Miller also demanded that the band become an integral part of the story and not just be thrown into some inconsequential scene. He had achieved star status and he was now demanding and getting star treatment.
 The Army Air Force Band 1942-1944
Bust outside the Corn Exchange in Bedford, where Miller played in World War II.In 1942, at the peak of his civilian career, Miller decided he could better serve those in uniform by joining the war effort. At 38 years old, Miller was too old to be drafted, and first volunteered for the Navy but was told that they didn't need his services. [Simon 309-310] Miller then wrote to the Army's Brigadier General Charles Young on August 12 1942. Miller persuaded the Army to accept him so he could in his own words, "be placed in charge of a modernized army band." [Simon 312] After being accepted in the Army, Glenn's civilian band played their last concert in Passaic, New Jersey on September 27, 1942.
He initially formed a large marching band that was to be the core of a network of service orchestras, but his attempts at modernizing military music were met with some resistance from tradition-minded career officers. An example is the arrangement of "St. Louis Blues March", combining blues and jazz with the traditional military march. This was recorded on October 29, 1943 at the Victor studios in New York City. Miller's striking innovations and his adaptations of Sousa marches for the AAF band prompted Time magazine to claim that he had rankled traditionalists in the field of Army music and had desecrated the March King. The magazine also criticized Miller's injection of casual enjoyment into the disciplined cadences of military music, stating that the Army was 'swinging its hips instead of its feet.'" But by the time of Miller's death, opinion had changed. General Jimmy Doolittle said, ?[...]next to a letter from home, that organization was the greatest morale builder in the European Theater of Operations.?
Miller's monument in Grove Street Cemetery, New Haven, ConnecticutOn December 15, 1944, Miller, now a major, was to fly from the United Kingdom to Paris, France, to play for the soldiers who recently had liberated Paris. His plane departed from RAF Twinwood Farm, in Clapham, Bedfordshire, but disappeared over the English Channel. Miller's remains and the wreckage of the plane (a single-engine Noorduyn Norseman UC-64, USAAF Tail Number 44-70285) have never been found.
Since Miller's disappearance more than sixty years ago, there have been many theories about what happened. Buddy DeFranco, one of the leaders of the post-war Glenn Miller orchestra, told biographer George T. Simon of the many theories of Miller's disappearance that were told to him while he was leading the band in the 1970s. DeFranco said "If I were to believe all those stories, there would have been about twelve thousand four hundred and fifty eight people there at the field in England seeing him off on that last flight!"
Miller's plane may have been bombed accidentally by Royal Air Force aircraft over the English Channel after an abortive air raid on Germany. One hundred and thirty-eight Lancaster bombers, short on fuel, were jettisoning approximately 100,000 incendiaries in a designated area before landing, per standing orders. The logbooks of Royal Air Force navigator Fred Shaw record that a small single-engined monoplane was seen spiralling out of control and crashed into the water. If this was indeed Miller's plane, then the RAF crews jettisoning ordnance to facilitate safe landing conditions could not have been to blame for Miller's plane's straying into their designated drop zone.
Miller's surname resides on the 'Wall of Missing' at the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial. A monument stone was also placed in Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven, Connecticut next to the campus of Yale University.
 Ghost Bands 1946 to the Present
The Miller estate authorized an official Glenn Miller "ghost band" in 1946. This band was led by Tex Beneke, former lead saxophonist and singer for the civilian band. It had a make up similar to the Army Air Force Band: it had a large string section. The orchestra's official public d?but was at the Capitol Theatre on Broadway where it opened for a three week engagement on January 24, 1946. Henry Mancini was the band's pianist and one of the arrangers. This ghost band played to very large audiences all across the United States, including a few dates at the Hollywood Palladium in 1947, where the original Miller band played in 1941. Even as the big band era faded, the Tex Beneke and Glenn Miller Orchestra concert at the Palladium resulted in a record-breaking crowd of 6,750 dancers. By 1949, economics dictated that the string section be dropped.
This band recorded for RCA Victor, just as the original Miller band did. Beneke was struggling with how to expand the Miller sound and also how to achieve success under his own name. What began as the "Glenn Miller Orchestra Under the Direction of Tex Beneke" finally became "The Tex Beneke Orchestra". By 1950, Beneke and the Miller estate parted ways. The break was acrimonious and Beneke is not currently listed by the Miller estate as a former leader of the Glenn Miller orchestra.
When Glenn Miller was alive, various bandleaders like Bob Chester imitated his style. By the early 1950s, various bands were again copying the Miller style of clarinet led reeds and muted trumpets, notably Ralph Flanagan, Jerry Gray, and Ray Anthony. This, coupled with the success of The Glenn Miller Story (1953), led the Miller estate to ask Ray McKinley to lead a new ghost band. This 1956 band is the original version of the current ghost band that still tours the United States today. The official Glenn Miller orchestra for the United States is currently under the direction of Larry O'Brien. The officially sanctioned Glenn Miller Orchestra for the United Kingdom has toured and recorded with great success under the leadership of Ray McVay.The official Glenn Miller Orchestra for Europe has been led by Wil Salden since 1990.
The Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band's legacy has carried on with the Airmen of Note, a band within the United States Air Force. This band was created in 1950 from smaller groups within the Bolling Air Force Base in Washington D.C. and continues to play jazz music for the Air Force community and the general public.
In 1953, Anthony Mann directed The Glenn Miller Story for Universal Pictures starring James Stewart and June Allyson. The fictionalized biographical film was a popular success. Miller's mother said of the movie that actor James Stewart 'wasn't as good looking as my son'.
Glenn Miller's widow, Helen, died in 1966. Herb Miller, Glenn Miller's brother, led his own band in the United States and England until the late 1980s. Herb's son, John continues the tradition leading a band playing mainly Glenn Miller style music.
In mainly the United States and England, there are a few archives that are devoted to Glenn Miller. At the University of Colorado at Boulder, Alan Cass heads their Glenn Miller archive, that includes the original manuscript to Miller's theme song, "Moonlight Serenade", among other items of interest. In 2002, the Glenn Miller Museum opened to the public at the former RAF Twinwood Farm, in Clapham, Bedfordshire, England.
In 2003, Miller posthumously received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
The entire output of cigarette sponsored radio programs Glenn Miller did between 1939 and 1942 were recorded by the Glenn Miller organization on acetate discs. In the 1950s and afterwards, RCA-Victor distributed many of these on long playing albums and compact discs. A sizeable representation of the recording output by the band is almost always in circulation by Sony/BMG Music and the Universal Music Group, the successor labels to RCA-Victor, Bluebird, Columbia and Decca. Glenn Miller remains one of the most famous and recognizable names of the big band era of 1935 to 1945.