The Big Band Years

Sat, 06/06/2009 - 2:00pm
PeterMarshall_140.jpg

Pictured: Peter Marshall

Credit: TJL Productions
For the first time, the My Music series returns to the era of the legendary orchestras, great singers and song standards in The Big Band Years, drawing upon the most beloved melodies that kept the home fires burning and soldiers’ hearts alive during World War II.

Coinciding with the 65th anniversary of D-Day — the June 6, 1944, Allied Forces invasion of Normandy, France — The Big Band Years turns back the clock to a time when swing musicians ruled the radio and night clubs, bringing a joyful escape to Americans during one of the most turbulent eras in the nation’s history. The Big Band Years  airs Saturday, June 6 at 2 p.m. on WXXI-TV 21 (cable 11) and WXXI-HD (DT21.1/ cable 1011). Peter Marshall (“The Hollywood Squares”) hosts.

Probably the most famous leader and ensemble of the big band period are Glenn Miller and his orchestra. Miller was responsible for some of the most enduring big band songs, including “In the Mood” (#1 for three months in 1939) and “Chattanooga Choo-Choo,” a chart-topper from 1941. Miller’s beloved saxophonist Tex Beneke sang vocals on the group’s 1942 million-seller “(I’ve Got a Gal in) Kalamazoo,” along with the Modernaires vocal quartet.

Another brassy big band icon, Harry James, performs the classic “Tuxedo Junction,” and clarinet king Benny Goodman is represented by a pair of his signature tunes: “Sing, Sing, Sing” and “These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You).” On the lighter side, Cotton Club alumnus Cab Calloway performs his animated rendition of “Minnie the Moocher,” a #1 hit from 1931.

The big band era is fondly remembered for the wonderful “boy” and “girl” singers who performed with the bands. Helen O’Connell and Bob Eberly, from the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra, enjoyed huge success with “Green Eyes” in 1941. The Pied Pipers, who first sang with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, offer their version of the Johnny Mercer evergreen “Dream,” while a young Frank Sinatra is seen singing “I’ll Never Smile Again.”