ON THIS DATE (71 YEARS AGO)
May 7, 1941 – In Hollywood, Glenn Miller & His Orchestra recorded “Chattanooga Choo Choo.” The 78 RPM release went on to sell more than 1.2 million copies and was #1 on the pop chart for nine weeks.
“Chattanooga Choo Choo” is a song by Harry Warren (music) and Mack Gordon (words). It was recorded in a big-band/swing manner by Glenn Miller and his orchestra and featured in the 1941 movie Sun Valley Serenade, which starred Sonja Henie, John Payne, Glenn Miller and his orchestra, The Modernaires, Milton Berle and Joan Davis. The song was performed in the film as an extended production number, featuring vocals by Tex Beneke, Paula Kelly, and the Modernaires, followed by a production number showcasing Dorothy Dandridge and an acrobatic dance sequence by The Nicholas Brothers. The Glenn Miller recording, RCA Bluebird B-11230-B, became the #1 song across the United States on December 7, 1941, and remained at #1 for nine weeks on the Billboard Best Sellers chart.
The 78-rpm commercial version of the song was recorded on May 7, 1941 for RCA Victor’s Bluebird label and became the first to be certified a gold disc on February 10, 1942, for sales of 1,200,000. The transcription of this award ceremony can be heard on the first of three volumes of RCA’s “Legendary Performer” compilations on Glenn released by RCA in the 1970s. In the early 1990s a two-channel recording of a portion of the Sun Valley Serenade soundtrack was discovered, allowing reconstruction of a true-stereo version of the film performance.
In 1996, the 1941 recording of “Chattanooga Choo Choo” by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
The song was written by the team of Mack Gordon and Harry Warren while traveling on the Southern Railway’s Birmingham Special train. The song tells the story of traveling from New York City to Chattanooga. However, the inspiration for the song was a small, wood-burning steam locomotive of the 2-6-0 type which belonged to the Cincinnati Southern Railway, which is now part of the Norfolk Southern Railway system. That train is now a museum artifact. From 1880, most trains bound for America’s South passed through the southeastern Tennessee city of Chattanooga, often on to the super-hub of Atlanta. The Chattanooga Choo Choo did not refer to any particular train, though some have incorrectly asserted that it referred to Louisville and Nashville’s Dixie Flyer or the Southern Railway’s Crescent Limited.