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.
Harry James and His Music Makers debuted in February 1939 at the Benjamin Franklin Hotel in Philadelphia. They made their first recordings for Brunswick. Connie Haines was the female vocalist. In June of that year James hired an inexperienced Frank Sinatra as his male vocalist.
The orchestra did well in New York, but its high-swinging sound wasn't well-received outside the city. A trip to Los Angeles proved financially disastrous, and the band struggled to make it through a booking at the Sherman Hotel in Chicago. Tommy Dorsey was in Chicago at the same time and was having problems with his male vocalist. He offered Sinatra a job. With Sinatra's wife expecting and the band's financial future uncertain James let him go. He was soon replaced by Dick Haymes, who went on to become one of the top male vocalists of the era.