Born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, composer and arranger Joseph Francis “Sonny” Burke studied piano and violin as a child. He later switched to the vibes, which would become his signature instrument.
He began playing in dance bands at an early age, leading his own group at Duke University. When Detroit orchestra leader Sam Donahue left his outfit in 1938 to work with Gene Krupa, Burke inherited the band. With encouragement from famous music critic John Hammond he brought the orchestra to New York, where they eventually landed a booking at the Roseland Ballroom and a recording contract with Okeh Records. The band never really achieved stardom but did produce some nice sides in its short life. The group's female vocalist was Lynne Sherman.