Harry James

Harry Haag James (March 15, 1916 – July 5, 1983)[1] was an American musician and bandleader. James was an instrumentalist of the swing era, employing a bravura playing style that made his trumpet work identifiable. He was one of the most popular bandleaders of the first half of the 1940s, and he continued to lead his band until just before his death, 40 years later.[2]

He was born in Albany, Georgia,[1] the son of a bandleader of a traveling circus.[2] By the age of 10 he was taking trumpet lessons from his father, who placed him on a strict daily practice schedule. Each day, James was given one page to learn from the Arban’s book and was not allowed to pursue any other pastime until he had learned that particular page.

Harry James and Helen Forrest, “I’ve Heard That Song Before”

In 1931 the family settled in Beaumont, Texas, where James began playing with local dance bands.

He joined the nationally popular Ben Pollack in 1935 but at the start of 1937, left Pollack to join Benny Goodman‘s orchestra, where he stayed through 1938.

“I Don’t Want To Walk Without You”

In February 1939 James debuted his own big band in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His hitYou Made Me Love You” was in the Top 10 during the week of December 7, 1941.[3] He toured with the band into the 1980s.

His was the first “name band” to employ vocalist Frank Sinatra, in 1939. He wanted to change Sinatra’s name to ‘Frankie Satin’ but Sinatra refused. His later band included drummer Buddy Rich.

He played trumpet in the 1950 film Young Man with a Horn,[4] dubbing Kirk Douglas. James’s recording of “I’m Beginning to See the Light” appears in the motion picture My Dog Skip (2000). His music is also featured in the Woody Allen film Hannah and Her Sisters. James recorded many popular records and appeared in many Hollywood movies.

Here’s the original of my very favorite song. Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer’s song, “Skylark. Performed by Helen Forrest and Harry James. 1941

He was second only to Glenn Miller as the most successful recording artist of 1942.[2]

James was married three times. On May 4, 1935, he married singer Louise Tobin, with whom he had two children. They divorced in 1943.[2] That same year, he married actress Betty Grable. They had two daughters, Victoria and Jessica, before divorcing in 1965. James married a third time in 1968 to Las Vegas showgirl Joan Boyd, whom he would divorce in March of 1970. Contrary to some assertions, he did not marry a fourth time. He had five children (two by Tobin, two by Grable, one by Boyd) and (as of his death) 16 grandchildren.

James owned several thoroughbred racehorses that won races such as the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes (1951) and the San Vicente Stakes (1954). He was also a founding investor in the Atlantic City Race Course. His knowledge of horse racing was demonstrated during a 1958 appearance on The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour entitled “Lucy Wins A Racehorse.[5]

Manhattan Serenade”

In 1983, James was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer, but he continued to work, playing his last professional job on June 26, 1983, in Los Angeles, California, just nine days before his death in Las Vegas, Nevada.[1][6] Frank Sinatra gave the eulogy at the Bunkers Eden Vale Memorial Park in Las Vegas.[7]

“You Made Me Love You”

Quick Bio Facts:

Harry JamesHarry James AKA Harry Haag James

Born: 15-Mar1916
Birthplace: Albany, GA
Died: 5-Jul1983
Location of death: Las Vegas, NV
Cause of death: Cancer – Lymphoma
Remains: Buried, Bunkers Eden Vale Cemetery, Las Vegas, NV

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Musician

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Big Band-era bandleader

Both a skilled trumpet-player and a popular bandleader, Harry James began playing in dance bands when he was only 15. In 1936 he was invited to join Benny Goodman‘s orchestra, and became so popular with audiences that when he decided to start his own band in 1938 Goodman helped to finance the venture.

Shortly after The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra began performing publicly in 1939, then-unknown singer Frank Sinatra was brought on board. The singer remained active with the band for only a year, however: finances during this period were tight, and when a more lucrative offer was given to Sinatra by Tommy Dorsey, James let him out of his contract so he could pursue it. Despite this defection, the orchestra achieved considerable popularity throughout the early 40s, in part aided by appearances in feature films such as Best Foot Forward and I’ll Get By.

In 1943 James married Betty Grable, the top pin-up model in the country. Not a bad personal development, but his musical fortunes were not moving along such positive lines, and in 1946 he dissolved the orchestra. This retirement proved to be short-lived, however, and he continued performing on and off (particularly in Las Vegas) until nine days before his death in 1983.

Father: Everette James (musician)
Wife: Betty Grable (actress, m. 5-Jul-1943)

Endorsement of Liggett Group Chesterfield cigarettes
Risk Factors: Smoking

The Sting II (18-Feb-1983)
The Ladies’ Man (28-Jun-1961) Himself
The Opposite Sex (26-Oct-1956) Himself
The Benny Goodman Story (Dec-1955) Himself
I’ll Get By (2-Oct-1950) Himself
On Our Merry Way (3-Feb-1948)
Carnegie Hall (28-Feb-1947) Himself
If I’m Lucky (2-Sep-1946)
Bathing Beauty (27-Jun-1944) Himself
Two Girls and a Sailor (27-Apr-1944) Himself
Best Foot Forward (29-Jun-1943) Himself
Springtime in the Rockies (6-Nov-1942) Himself
Private Buckaroo (11-Jun-1942) Himself

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube, nndb.com, imdb.com


  • If I’m Lucky (1946)
  • I’ll Get By (1950)
  • Outlaw Queen (1957)
  • Private Buckaroo (1942)
  • Riot in Rhythm (1957)

1955 De Soto commercial for Chrysler corp.

Hit Singles


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