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The Glenn Miller Sound

Getty Images / Archive Photos / Hulton Archive

The Glenn Miller Sound

Twenty years before Etta James made "At Last" her signature song, another artist recorded it for the first time. It was Glenn Miller, pioneer of big band music, along with his orchestra.

The unique sound of Miller's orchestra owed to his vision of a clarinet in the lead, backed by several saxophones playing in harmony. Add trombones (Miller's instrument), trumpets, and a whole lot more – and you've got that great big-band sound.

Glenn Miller was born 108 years ago today. In 1942, when he was 38 years old – and his band was at the height of its popularity – he followed the lead of many Americans and joined the war effort. Though too old to be drafted, he was enthusiastic about serving his country. He ended up doing so in the perfect way: he became the leader of the Army Air Force Band.

Miller was successful, helping modernize the Army band and boosting soldier morale. But his service turned to tragedy just two years later. In 1944, while traveling from England to France, Miller's plane disappeared over the English channel. Neither he nor any fellow passengers were ever heard from again. Miller was just 40 years old.

With the blessing of Miller's family, his band went on, still calling themselves the Glenn Miller Orchestra, led by Tex Beneke. As the years went on, other bandleaders took Beneke's place, and the Glenn Miller Orchestra still plays today.