The Glenn Miller Orchestra will take the stage at the Capitol Theatre at 7 p.m. Thursday, in Wheeling with the swing style music that organizers hope the will appeal to all generations not just baby boomers.
“Wheeling resident Lee Kelvington, founder of the Wheeling Big Band Society, said his group is sponsoring the performance. He explained his group’s goal is the “promotion and perpetuation” of music from the greatest generation.
“Our goal is to reach all generations,” Kelvington said. Ticket sales have already surpassed 700. He said, “We would love to fill the hall, but if we hit 1,000 we’ll be happy.”
Longtime national radio “Big Band Jump” host Don Kennedy will be the master of ceremonies for the performance.
“He volunteered to do it. He will add a lot to the concert. His show is heard twice each week locally,” Kelvington said.
Kennedy said the Glenn Miller Orchestra is the best of the “ghost bands” currently performing. “The Glenn Miller Orchestra plays all the time,” he said.
Kelvington concurred, “The band restarted in 1954 and has been in continuous existence since, performing more than 300 live concerts each year.” The group spends at least one month in Japan every year.
Glenn Miller started his band in 1938 and directed it for about four years. Miller joined the Army in 1942 and conducted the U.S. Army Air Corps band until he died in the English Channel on his way to a victory concert in Paris when his plane went down in December 1944.
The band will feature a variety of standard Glenn Miller favorites, in addition to other numbers with rare arrangements which have a large appeal. “The reason the appeal is there is young people are used to hearing three guitars and a drummer. When they hear a big band live, they are just blown away. There is a depth and excitement to a live band that can not be duplicated,” Kennedy said.
Kelvington attributed the renewed interest in big band music to the increased interest in dance which started in the early 1980s.
He pointed out the recent boom in ballroom dance classes. “What we’ve found, since we founded the society, is the vast majority of young people who have heard of swing like it.”
Glenn Miller Orchestra Director Larry O’Brien, who has led the band for 25 years, agreed.
“Young people today don’t hear this kind of music at home, in school or on the radio. When they do hear it they’re amazed. They take to it like ducks to water. Once we get them in the room we’ve got them. We desperately need this kind of music in schools.”
O’Brien added Kay Rafferty of Chicago is the female vocalist for the band. Brian Hemstock of Wisconsin is male vocalist.
A trio of band members the “Moonlight Serenaders” will also perform. He said the audience can expect to hear all the favorites like “Little Brown Jug,” “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” “In the Mood,” and “Moonlight Serenade.”
In addition the band will perform some ballads and “upbeat” tunes to highlight the talents of the vocalists.
“We will also play more obscure tunes people haven’t heard for a while, things that were not big hits but were recorded,” O’Brien.
He pointed out Glenn Miller’s Orchestra had 21 recordings in the top 10, more than anyone else, including Elvis and the Beatles.
“Big band paved the way for the groups of today. They were the stars of their era. Glenn Miller had the first Gold Medal recording for “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” Young soldiers loved them. One was quoted as saying they were better than a letter from home,” he said.”