Glenn Miller and Fats Waller were born in the same year, 1904, and died on the same date, 15 December 1944 and 1943 respectively. Few pop idols survive changing fashions unscathed, but Miller and Waller seem to have done just that.
One does better to consider the overlooked similarities between Miller and Waller than to belabor their obvious differences. Too much has been made of a racial divide that turned them into emblems of black cool and white corn, but everyone danced to Miller, and more whites than blacks bought Waller records.
The era inspired similar goals: Waller encouraged people to laugh through the privations of the thirties; Miller induced them to romanticize American values during wartime. Both used jazz as a conduit to reach a larger public than jazz per se could command. Both were defined by the times; now they define those times for us.
This according to “Stride and swing: The enduring appeal of Fats Waller and Glenn Miller” by Gary Giddins (The New Yorker LXXX/14 [31 May 2004] pp. 85–87).
Today is Miller’s 110th birthday! Below, The Glenn Miller Orchestra performs Chattanooga choo choo with Dorothy Dandridge and The Nicholas Brothers in the 1941 film Sun Valley serenade. Miller’s recording of the song was the #1 hit record in the U.S. for nine weeks.