For a brief time during World War II, big-band leader Glenn Miller was stationed at the Army Air Force Technical Training Command at Yale University. During his stint in the Elm City, Capt. Miller and his Army Air Force Band made six live radio broadcasts at Woolsey Hall.
“I Sustain the Wings” was aired and produced by CBS in 1944. The broadcasts included music, radio skits and war propaganda. Friday night in New Haven, student musicians at Yale University will don Army uniforms and re-create those radio shows.
Glenn Miller was the most popular bandleader in the country when he decided to join the war effort in 1942. At first, branches of the armed forces turned away the 38-year-old Miller because of his age. Finally, he was given the rank of captain in the Army Air Forces and was stationed in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where he was put in charge of a small group of musicians.
According to Tom Duffy, the Yale University director of bands, Miller wanted to grow the orchestra, and he discovered that a transfer to the Army Air Force Technical Training Command at Yale would do just that.
“He realized that if he went to Yale, he could take with him the Atlantic City musicians and combine it with the base band here in New Haven, and end up with a larger orchestra, so he did,” said Duffy.
Miller spent six months at Yale where he developed the Army Air Force Band into a top-notch ensemble.
“Glenn Miller wrote to all of his musician friends, ‘If you get drafted, please let me know and I will try to have you posted here in New Haven,’” explained Duffy. “So his orchestra here in New Haven had many string players, some from the New York Philharmonic, some from the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He had singers, string players, quite a fine group of artistic musicians.”
The radio shows served a few purposes. Not only were they intended to boost the morale of the American people and members of the military, but they also took demoralizing digs at German and Japanese soldiers who were presumably listening in to the broadcasts.
The programs themselves were chock-full of radio plays, sentimental traditional songs for older Americans, and of course swing music for the younger generation.
Tom Duffy plays Capt. Glenn Miller Friday night. He came up with the idea to reenact the shows in 1994 for the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landing. He said it’s been a learning experience for the student musicians and actors who make every effort to give the audience the experience of a live wartime radio show.
“I mean there are a lot of moving parts to this show,” said Duffy. “There’s a quintet of singers that sings in that 1940s a cappella style with the band in the background; there’s the radio play people; there are sound effects that go on onstage. Yesterday was the first time that all the elements were there on the stage. And I did have some comments from the students saying, ‘Wow, OK, we get it. This is really going to be exciting, can we get some comp tickets for our friends?’ Two days ago they didn’t care, yesterday they want comp tickets for their friends. So I think they are excited about the whole prospect.”
The performance commemorates three important events: the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the 50th year of women in Yale College, and the 150th anniversary of women at Yale. To that end, Friday’s reenactment starts with the debut of “Rosie’s Riveters Big Band,” a tribute to the hundreds of all-women swing bands that sprang up during the war.
The Yale Band’s performance of “Glenn Miller’s Army Air Force Band 1944 Radio Show” is Friday evening at 7:30 at Yale’s Woolsey Hall.