“Chattanooga Choo Choo” is a big-band/swing song which was featured in the 1941 movie “Sun Valley Serenade,” starring Sonja Henie, John Payne, and Glenn Miller and His Orchestra. It was performed in the film as two back-to-back production numbers. The first, featuring white artists, had vocals by Tex Beneke, Paula Kelly, and the Modernaires. This was followed by a production number showcasing black artists Dorothy Dandridge and The Nicholas Brothers. (The separate production numbers were a fitting metaphor for the separate compartments the white and black performers would have had to occupy on a train.)
The 78-rpm commercial version of the song was recorded on May 7, 1941 for RCA Victor’s Bluebird label. This was the #1 song across the United States on December 7, 1941. It became the first to be certified a gold disc on February 10, 1942, for sales of 1,200,000. In 1996, the 1941 recording of “Chattanooga Choo Choo” by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra on Bluebird was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
In 1942, at the peak of his civilian career, Miller decided he could best serve those in uniform by joining the war effort. At 38 years old, he was too old to be drafted, but proposed to the Army Air Force to accept his services “in charge of a modernized army band.” On December 15, 1944, Miller, now a major, was to fly from the United Kingdom to Paris, France, to play for the soldiers who recently had liberated Paris. His plane departed from Bedfordshire, England and disappeared while flying over the English Channel. No trace of the aircrew, passengers or plane has ever been found. As an officer in the armed forces, Miller’s official status is Missing in Action.
The song “Chattanooga Choo Choo” was written by the team of Mack Gordon and Harry Warren while traveling on the Southern Railway’s “Birmingham Special” train. From 1880, most trains bound for America’s South passed through the southeastern Tennessee city of Chattanooga. The “Chattanooga Choo Choo” did not refer to any particular train.
We are fortunate to be able to experience the fantastic sound of Glenn Miller through youtube. The first video shows the white part of the production number and ends at the entrance of Dorothy Dandridge. The second video features the black production number.
Do you really think you can sit down and not dance for the whole song? Try it!