May 7, 1941 – Glenn Miller records “Chattanooga Choo Choo” for RCA Victor

“Chattanooga Choo Choo” was written in 1941 by Mack Gordon and composed by Harry Warren. On February 10, 1942 the song received the first Gold Record ever awarded for sales of 1.2 million copies in 1942.

The big-band/swing song was featured in the 1941 movie “Sun Valley Serenade,” starring Sonja Henie, John Payne, with music provided by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra. Notably, the song was featured in the film as two back-to-back production numbers. The first, showcasing white artists, had vocals by Tex Beneke, Paula Kelly, and The Modernaires. This was followed by a production number starring black artists Dorothy Dandridge and the Nicholas Brothers. (The separate production numbers were a fitting metaphor for the separate compartments the white and black performers would have had to occupy on a train.)

Glenn Miller

Glenn Miller

While the white and black artists were separate, there was an interesting departure. In an interview with NPR, playwright Murray Horwitz pointed out:

At one point, the Nicholas Brothers are dancing in the foreground with the Miller Band in the background. Now, I checked with the National Jazz Museum in Harlem to make sure, and it turns out I was right. This was unusual for a Hollywood movie in 1941. Usually, if there was a racially integrated musical scene, it was shot so that the scene could be excised for exhibitors in the South. And that didn’t happen.”

You can see both versions on Youtube.

The first video shows the white part of the production number and ends at the entrance of Dorothy Dandridge. The second video features the black production number.

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