Harry James

Albany, Georgia, USA


Harry James was born in a rundown hotel next to the city jail in Albany, Georgia. His mother and father were members of a circus - she as a trapeze artist and he a band leader - with the Mighty Haag Circus. At seven, they settled in Beaumont, Texas where Harry learned yo play drums. By twelve, he was playing trumpet in the Christy Brothers circus band. In 1936 James joined Ben Pollack's band, soon leaving to lead the brass section of Benny Goodman's band. He even once applied to Lawrence Welk's band but was turned down because they said he played too loud and it was not Welk's style. After three years with Goodman, he wanted to leave, and with Goodman's backing, he formed the Music Makers. In 1943 he married pinup queen Betty Grable, his second of four wives. He had earlier married and divorced Louise Tobin, a singer. Grable kept appearing in movies and Harry kept playing while they raised horses. He made his debut in Philadelphia at the Ben Franklin Hotel and soon was a nationwide favorite of dance lovers and jazz addicts, rocking the rafters at the Hollywood Paladium, Chicago's famous College Inn at the Hotel Sherman, Frank Dailey's Meadowbrook in Cedar Cove, NJ, and then onto New York City. It was the Lincoln Hotel in NYC that the Music Makers called home, but James also starred at the Paramount Theater in the spring of 1943, with thousands of teenagers flocking to see him. His version of You Made Me Love You was a big hit and a favorite of many through the war years. James was a great discoverer of talent, finding Frank Sinatra working as a waiter in a New Jersey restaurant and giving him a job singing in his band. Dick Haymes, Kitty Kallen, Connie Haines and Helen Forrest can all thank James for giving them their first real break. In 1963 his band was featured at Disneyland, still known as the Music Makers. He played his last gig at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles on June 26, 1983, just a few days before dying of lymphatic cancer.