Tenor saxophone, singer, band leader
Born: February 12, 1914 in Fort Worth, Texas
Died: May 30, 2000 in Costa Mesa, California
He was born Gordon Beneke in Fort Worth, a birthplace which earned him the familiar nickname ‘Tex’. He played soprano saxophone as a child and began his professional career playing in territory bands of the southwest including two years with the Ben Young Orchestra (1935-37). He joined the Glenn Miller and his Orchestra the following year where his own contribution brought him individual awards in the influential polls conducted by magazines like Down Beat and Metronome in 1941-2. He recorded with the Metronome All-Stars, an annual band made up of the winning musicians in the Metronome poll, in 1941.
Although he subsequently found himself in dispute with the bandleader’s estate, Tex Beneke played a major role in establishing the trademark Glenn Miller sound as one of the most successful inventions of the big band era. His tenor saxophone solos and amiable vocals featured prominently on many of Miller’s biggest hits, including ‘In The Mood’, ‘String of Pearls’, ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo’, ‘I Got a Girl in Kalamazoo’ and ‘Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree’, and he was a key member of the saxophone section in his four years with the band.
He joined in 1938 having been recommended to Miller by drummer Gene Krupa. Krupa had left the Benny Goodman band and was looking for talent to form his own first band. One night he stopped in a ballroom to listen to the Ben Young band and wound up taking two or three musicains with him back to New York, but he had no room for Beneke because his sax section was already filled. Krupa knew that Glenn Miller was forming a band and recommended Beneke to Miller.
Tex remained with Miller until the trombonist disbanded the unit when he entered the armed forces in 1942. Beneke was never a member of Miller’s final Army Air Force Band which was based in England prior to the bandleader’s mysterious death when his aircraft disappeared over the English Channel while on a flight to France in 1944. Instead, the saxophonist toured in the USA with The Modernaires, the vocal group formerly associated with the Miller band. Beneke played very briefly with Horace Heidt before joining the Navy himself, leading a Navy band in Oklahoma Glenn Miller’s widow approached Beneke to lead a reformed version of the posthumous Glenn Miller Orchestra in 1946. It had a make up similar to Glenn Miller’s Army Air Force Band with a large string section. The orchestra’s official public début was at the Capitol Theatre on Broadway where it opened for a three week engagement on January 24, 1946. Henry Mancini was the pianist and one of the arrangers. Another arranger was Norman Leyden who previously arranged for the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band.
The band was an immediate success, touring intensively to wildly enthusiastic audience responses and racking up a sequence of hit records all in the classic Miller mould. Tex led the band until 1950, but eventually rebelled against the strict managerial insistence on playing Miller’s music exactly as the trombonist conceived it. He broke his relationship with the estate to form his own band and toured under the banner “Tex Beneke and His Orchestra Playing the Music Made Famous by Glenn Miller”.
With this ensemble Beneke introduced some of his own ideas and began to experiment in a way prohibited by the Miller estate. The break led to his being left out of the film version of The Glenn Miller Story in 1953, although he had appeared in two earlier films which featured the band, Sun Valley Serenade (1941) and Orchestra Wives (1942).
After breaking with the Miller camp, Beneke led his own bands into the 1990s always working in some variation of the Miller sound. He was featured on American television’s Cavalcade of Big Bands in the 1960s and also worked with occasional groupings of former Miller musicians in bands like The Glenn Miller Singers in the late 1950s, and the Big Band Academy Of America in the late 1980s.