Born: March 15, 1916 Primary Instrument: Trumpet
One of the most popular bandleaders of the wartime era, Harry James is best remembered today for his colorful trumpet playing and as the husband of pin-up girl Betty Grable. Born in a run-down hotel next to the city jail in Albany, Georgia, Harry's parents were circus performers -- his mother a trapeze artist and his father the bandleader. James began playing drums at age seven and took up the trumpet at ten, performing for the Christy Brothers circus band.
James' family later settled in Beaumont, Texas, and he began playing for local dance bands while in high school. In 1935 he joined Ben Pollack's orchestra, leaving in December 1936 for Benny Goodman. During his time with Goodman, James became very popular with the jazz crowd for his colorful, ear-shattering, trumpet playing. He became so popular that when he decided to leave Goodman in December 1938 to form his own band Goodman himself financed the outfit....