Friday, July 5, 2013

Remembering Big Band & Jazz Legend - Harry James

Harry James
He was the best trumpet player during the Big Band Era. Harry James
was known for his technical proficiency, amazing high register, and swinging style.

Harry Haag James was born in Albany, Georgia on March 15, 1916 to Everett R. James, a circus bandleader, and Maybelle Stewart Clark James, a trapeze artist. Both performed with the Mighty Haag Circus. By the age of 8, his father was teaching him how to play the trumpet, and at 12, Harry was playing his trumpet and leading the second band in the Christy Brothers Circus.

Ben Pollack Orchestra
Benny Goodman Orchestra
His first gig was with the Ben Pollack Orchestra, a nationally known band. In 1936, James joined one of the nation’s most popular Swing Bands, The Benny Goodman Orchestra, and performed on the hit recordings of Sing, Sing, Sing and One O’Clock Jump.

Frank Sinatra
Harry James & His Music Makers
Three years later he was ready to go out with his own band; Harry James and His Music Makers. They took to the stage in Philadelphia and swung the crowd. Shortly thereafter he hired then unknown Frank Sinatra as a vocalist for the group. James also helped launch the career of female Big Band singer, Helen Forrest

Harry James
Playing for the Crowds
In 1941, James changed the sound of the band from the fast-paced Swing music to Sweet music, which had strings and was more in the style of ballads.  The results were immediate; in April 1941 his self-written instrumental Music Makers was in the Top 10, followed by Lament to Love in August. The week of December 7, 1941, You Made Me Love You was in the Top 5, the record that would make him a star. 

You Made Me Love You  - Harry James and His Music Makers with Helen Forrest on vocals.
Opening from the movie “Private Buckaroo” 1942

By 1942, his band was second to Glenn Miller’s as the most successful recording artist of the year. When Miller went into the Armed Forces, he handed over the reigns to the popular Chesterfield Time Radio Program to James and his Band. 

Harry James & His Trumpet
Harry James and His Music Makers had 40 hit singles including Ain’t She Sweet, Cry Me a River, Flight of the Bumblebee, and (Up a) Lazy River. James was one of the most popular Big Band leaders during the early 40’s, but disbanded the group at the end of 1946 due to a lack of income and the waning interest in Big Band music.  But he continued to perform and appeared in numerous Hollywood movies.

Harry James Show
Harry James

In 1947, James formed a jazz group also known as Harry James and His Music Makers. By 1951, he had his own television show, The Harry James Show.

The James Family
Betty Grable
James was married four times, most notably to WW II pin-up girl Betty Grable on July 5, 1943. Their marriage lasted for over 20 years and they had two children.

Harry James
James played his trumpet in the jazz style until the early 80’s. Diagnosed with lymphatic cancer in 1983, he continued to perform.  He made his last appearance on stage nine days before his death.

Harry James died on July 5, 1983 while on tour in Las Vegas.  He was 67 years old. He is interred at Bunkers Eden Vale Cemetery in the Chapel of Eternal Peace in Las Vegas.

Harry Haag James
Regarding his eminent death, James said, "Let it just be said that I went up to do a one-nighter with Archangel Gabriel."

~ Joy


  1. Great bit of research there and I have heard of the guy.

  2. Thanks, Bill! I had a dear, dear friend who played in the Big Bands and knew James; said he was a "swell guy."

  3. Another great article! Very well researched. I am a big fan of Glenn Miller and all of the great band leaders during the Big Band era. I will have to add some Harry Haag James to my Spotify playlist. Thanks for posting this.

    1. Thanks, John. I love Glenn Miller and the Andrew Sisters, Benny Goodman..... Definitely check out Harry James, both his Big Band and Jazz music.