On February 10, 1942, Glenn Miller was awarded the first-ever Gold Record, for the song "Chattanooga Choo Choo." RCA Victor made the record by taking one of Miller's albums, painting it gold, and framing it. The event celebrated 1,200,000 sales of the single, released on RCA Victor's Bluebird label in 1941.
"Chattanooga Choo Choo" was a massive hit, and in 1942 Miller was at the height of his career, performing with his orchestra to sold-out houses. It was also the height of World War II. Miller was 38—too old to be drafted—but he volunteered for the Army and was quickly promoted to captain, then major. (Incidentally, he tried the Navy first, but they turned him down.)
Miller's job in the Army was primarily to provide music to the troops, mainly within the Air Force. In addition to performing, he modernized the Army Band tradition and rewrote a variety of key tunes. After hundreds of performances in the U.S. and abroad, Miller's single-engine plane was lost in 1944 on a flight from England to Paris. He was 40 years old.
But let's get back to the good stuff—"Chattanooga Choo Choo" appeared in the 1941 film Sun Valley Serenade, and that performance is a barn-burner. Lasting eight minutes, the "Choo Choo" segment starts with the Glenn Miller Orchestra rehearsing the tune, featuring whistling and singing by Tex Beneke, Paula Kelly, and The Modernaires.
Just when you think the song is over, the camera pans to reveal a second, previously unseen set—a train station where Dorothy Dandridge and The Nicholas Brothers appear and perform an exquisite song-and-dance number, while the orchestra continues.
Come for the swing, stay for the tap. (If you just want to see the fantastic dance bit featuring The Nicholas Brothers, I won't blame you—zip ahead to 4:55.)
For a bit more on Miller and his gold record-winning song, read this Rhapsody in Books blog post. If you've never seen The Nicholas Brothers before, watch them perform "the greatest dance number ever filmed."
(Glenn Miller image, public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)