Musician, Band Leader. The wartime era was crowded with big bands but Harry James with his colorful trumpet playing became one of the most popular swing bands in the nation. The group reflected the circus upbringing of its leader. The men were attired in red mess jackets, white bow ties and winged collars that went with full dress outfits. Color was the order of the day. He was born Harry Haag James in Albany, Georgia, his parents were both circus performers His father, Everette Robert James, was the bandleader and trumpet player in the orchestra for Mighty Haag Circus, and his mother, Maybelle Stewart Clark James, was an aerialist. Growing up in the circus, James became a performer himself at age four working as a contortionist. He turned to music, first playing the snare drum in the circus band. At age six, after lessons from his father was playing the trumpet. At twelve, he was the leader of the second band in the Christy Brothers Circus where his family was then employed. The circus spent each winter in Beaumont, Texas where he received his scant education. He won a state music contest as trumpeter at fourteen while attending Beaumont High School. James quit school and turned professional playing in local dance bands. Employment with a national group came in 1935 with Ben Pollack's orchestra and a year later with Benny Goodman. He hit his stride and was very popular with the jazz crowd for his colorful trumpet playing. He formed his own band which was financed by Goodman himself and they debuted at the Benjamin Franklin Hotel in Philadelphia. It featured an unknown male vocalist by the name of Frank Sinatra. Other vocalists singing with the band during its heyday: Helen Forrest, Dick Haymes and Kitty Kallan. Songs made famous by the band which featured Harry playing trumpet solos and in the top ten: 'The Flight Of The Bumble Bee, The Carnival Of Venice, I cried For You and You Made Me Love You.' Some movies James appeared with his band: 'Springtime In The Rockies, Best Foot Forward, Two Girls And A Sailor, Bathing Beauty, If I'm Lucky, Do You Love Me, Carnegie Hall and I'll Get By.' His fabled second marriage to film star Betty Grable aided his career and the band under his leadership reached remarkable heights. With the big band era over, he dissolved the orchestra in 1946 but continued performing mostly in Las Vegas. Diagnosed with lymphatic cancer he continued to work. His last professional job was in Los Angeles nine days before passing away at Valley Hospital in Las Vegas at age 67. His funeral was held in Las Vegas with Frank Sinatra giving the eulogy. He was interred in the mausoleum at Bunkers Eden Vale Memorial Park. Postscript: Harry James often performed in Vegas hotels with Betty Grable. The couple were onstage at the El Rancho Vegas when Betty smelled smoke. The hotel was evacuated, but the facility burned to the ground without injury or loss of life. Both James and Betty were addicted to gambling. What they didn't lose in Nevada casinos, they spent buying, training, stabling and betting on race horses. The couple gambled away millions. After more then twenty years, their marriage ended in divorce. Harry died on what would have been their 40th anniversary. His biography 'Trumpet Blues: The Life of Harry James' by Peter J. Levinson was published in 1999.
Bio by: Donald Greyfield
1916–1973 (m. 1943)