Harry James


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Big band leader and trumpeter Harry James wanted to make music that really swung and could be danced to all the time.

Born into a circus family, Harry began performing with the Mighty Haag Circus at the age of four; first he played the drums, then moved to the trumpet - his father's instrument - at eight. He was so extraordinarily skilled, that he replaced his father as leader of the band by the time he was 12.

Moving up through bigger bands, James decided to go solo at 23. He could play dolce and dolcissimo, and then deafeningly loud when he wanted to, with a style that made him stand out.

On 4 May 1935, he married singer Louise Tobin, with whom he had two children before they divorced in 1943.

James discovered Frank Sinatra in 1939. He heard him sing on the radio and signed him into the band. Sinatra was a little green, but James helped him develop, and together they recorded 'From the Bottom of My Heart' and 'Melancholy Mood'.

A year later, the band was in financial trouble and James released Sinatra from his contract. The recording of 'You Made Me Love You' changed the band's fortunes. By the end of 1941, the band was rated the best in the country.

In spring 1942, James and his band made the front page of the newspapers, when their gig at the Paramount Theatre, New York, caused traffic jams and riots.

By this time he was second only to Glenn Miller as the most successful recording artist of the year and he was praised by fellow musicians for his technical proficiency and superior tone.

Adding to his media profile, James married Betty Grable, the number one pin up idol of the time, the next year. They had two daughters called Jessica and Victoria before divorcing in 1965.

James played the trumpet in the 1950 film 'Young Man with a Horn', dubbing for its star Kirk Douglas. His music has also been used as the soundtrack for a range of TV shows and films, with the most notable being 'Raging Bull' in 1980 and posthumously 'The Matrix' (1999), 'The Matrix Revolutions' (2003) and 'The Aviator' in 2004.

He also owned several race horses that won races including the California Breeders' Champion Stakes in 1951 and the San Vicente Stakes in 1954.

In 1968, he married showgirl Joan Boyd in Las Vegas and they had one child. They divorced in 1970.

James continued to perform until his death, on 5 July 1983. He had been diagnosed with lymphatic cancer earlier that year and gave his final performance on 26 June 1983.

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