Glenn Miller (born Alton Glenn Miller March 1, 1904 in Clarinda, Iowa) lived in Nebraska and Missouri before his parents Lewis Elmer and Mattie Lou transported all the family’s belongings in a Union Pacific boxcar to Fort Morgan in 1918. Elmer Miller worked as a custodian at Fort Morgan High School, where Glenn was enrolled as a student. Teenage Miller exhibited athletic ability, joining the school’s football team in the fall of 1919. The Maroons went on to win the Northern Colorado Football Conference in 1920, with Glenn Miller named as the Best Left End in Colorado.
Music was emerging as Miller’s first love, however. Though not considered a remarkable musician at the time, the young trombonist participated in the high school band under director Elmer Wells. Glenn practiced regularly—including an infamous time atop the roof of the high school in the wee hours of the morning that resulted in his band teacher having to pick him up at the police station. Miller also played in the municipal band under director Glen White, which included participating in the concerts held at the park during the summers. During his senior year, Glenn Miller became attracted to a new style of music called dance band music. He formed his own band, the Mick-Miller Melody Five with some classmates. Miller missed his own graduation ceremony in 1921 because he was playing a gig in Wyoming. In his absence, Glenn’s mother accepted his diploma.
After high school, Miller joined the Boyd Senter Band in Denver. He entered the University of Colorado in 1923, where he met his future wife Helen Burger, but withdrew before graduating to become a full-time musician. For several years Miller struggled professionally, eventually gaining international fame for his signature big band sound. Many of his songs are still well known today, including “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” “Little Brown Jug,” “Moonlight Serenade,” and “In the Mood.”
At the height of his career, Glenn Miller voluntarily joined the World War II effort in 1942. He served in the U.S. Army Air Force, where he was assigned to lead the Army Air Force Band. In 1944, Major Miller boarded a plane to travel across the English Channel to prepare for a concert to entertain U.S. troops. His aircraft never arrived, and its disappearance remains a mystery. Glenn Miller’s parents lived most of their lives in Fort Morgan and are buried in the Fort Morgan cemetery.
Fort Morgan continues to celebrate its association with the famous band leader, with signs on I-76 proudly announcing the City as the “Boyhood Home of Glenn Miller.” The Fort Morgan Museum hosts an exhibit featuring mementos from Miller’s life, and the high school auditorium and a courtyard next to City Hall bear his name. Since 1996, Fort Morgan has also been home to an annual Glenn Miller Swingfest, drawing people from across the nation and beyond. Swingfest has featured outstanding big bands, including the world famous Glenn Miller Orchestra.
In July 2016, CACE debuted Glenn Miller: The Birthplace of His Music. The documentary concentrates exclusively on Miller’s life before he became famous.The 56-minute film has been featured on Rocky Mountain PBS.