Published: April 23, 2024

鶹ѰBoulder’s vast and historically valuable Glenn Miller collection is set to take the spotlight, thanks to a philanthropy-funded archiving project.

Glenn Miller news clipping

Clipping from the University of Colorado faculty and staff newspaper Silver & Gold Recordadvertising the 1984 commencement ceremony, where Glenn Miller was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree (posthumously). From Volume XIV, No. 33, printed May 17, 1984.

In 1923, Alton Glen “Glenn” Millerattended 鶹ѰBoulder for three semesters before becoming . The gift from a group of committed jazz supporters is allowing the University Libraries to hire an archivist to review the campus’s collection of materials associated with Miller’s work—a mostly untapped trove of information about the iconic artist.

“The personal papers, photographs, music and other ephemera of the legendary Glenn Miller shed light on the man behind the music and open an extensive new collection of research for all to study and enjoy,” said Kate Tallman, assistant professor and interim faculty director of the university’s Rare & Distinctive Collections (RaD) team (part of the University Libraries). Tallman’s team manages the collections as part of its American Music Research Center archival collections (AMRC).

Heartfelt gift for 鶹ѰBoulder

The support for this massive archival effort stems from the generosity of Deanna and Brewster Waddell.Brewster graduated from 鶹ѰBoulder in 1984.

“Glenn Miller was one of, if not the greatest big band leader of his time,” said Brewster.

“He wrote music for and played with the top band leaders of the day, like the Dorsey Brothers, Benny Goodman, Harry James and many more. Louis Armstrong carried his recording with him on the road! The realization that his music, notes, artifacts and instruments were in the basement of Norlin Library, hidden from the world, was elating to us. With our backing, we could bring to light many unknown works and personal aspects of Glenn Miller and add to his lore. We had to do it!”

Brewster continued: “As 鶹ѰBoulder has a very well respected College of Music, we thought we’d like to sponsor a jazz program that would bring visibility to CU.”

Glenn Miller collections archive in storage

The Glenn Miller collection is currently storedin the University Librarie's archives.

This unique donation impacts 鶹ѰBoulder’s College of Music and University Libraries, as it will support arranging, describing and making the physical collections accessible—along with digitizing a limited number of selected materials from the collections. It’s a rare opportunity to participate in preserving an important period of American history that has yet to be preserved and digitized.

Noted Tallman, “Music is inherently transient. It is written, performed and recorded at a specific point in time, and no recording can capture the sentiment, environment or cultural context in which that sound is released into the world.

“This is why archives like ours at 鶹ѰBoulder feel like a moral imperative to preserve the material culture behind society’s great musicians.”

Discovering and preserving history

The Glenn Miller collections fill an estimated 1,400 boxes safely secured in the University Libraries’ archives.

However, the majority of the contents haven’t been fully accessible for research use due to the sheer volume of items.

The donor-funded project archivist at RaD will assemble, catalog, preserve and manage what is known as a major collection of big band and swing music memorabilia and research materials. A national search for the position is underway, said Tallman.

“This is an incredible opportunity for an archivist to uncover some of the more hidden stories of the big band and swing era and early jazz,” Tallman said. “It’s a career-building opportunity for an archivist and also a great gift to our understanding of the stories behind the music of this era.”

The first job of the new archivist will be to organize the collection in a way that is helpful to researchers and the public who want to access the correspondence, photographs, musical instruments, medals and even clothing. Currently, nothing in the boxes is sorted or organized.

The magic of collaboration

Engaging users with the collections will be a cross-collaboration between RaD and the College of Music’s American Research Center (AMRC) at 鶹ѰBoulder, as the materials will also be a significant research asset within the jazz studies program.

News clipping from Fort Morgan Times

News clipping from the Fort Morgan Times. Cutline says: “Major Glenn Miller plays a very cold trombone in a hangar somewhere in England during the winter of 1944 shortly before his death. Miller disappeared while on a flight over the English Channel on his way to Paris.”

“An important part of the mission of the AMRC is to serve as an educational resource for the study of American music, history and culture,” noted AustinOkigbo, associate professor of ethnomusicology, African studies and global health and interim director of AMRC.

According to John Gunther, professor of jazz studies and director of the College of Music's Thompson Jazz Studies Program, the Glenn Miller archival project—when completed—will provide students and faculty a unique resource for both study and performance.

"When supporters step in to fill a need—in this case, archiving the extensive Glenn Miller collections for broad accessibility—magic happens," said John Davis, dean of the College of Music.

"Beyond preserving the collections for their immense historical value, this important archival project will illuminate Miller's creative influence for posterity by expanding AMRC research opportunities, by serving as a point of reference and inspiration for students of our College of Music—especially those in the Thompson Jazz Studies Program—and by ensuring general access to the collections, including scholars and interested members of the public well beyond our campus community."

An investment in insights

"This generous gift to our University Libraries archives is not just about preservation. It is also an investment in scholarship,” said Robert McDonald, dean of University Libraries and senior vice provost for online and extended education.

“When processing of the collections is complete, students and other researchers will be able to gain valuable insights into the life, music and cultural impact of Glenn Miller, as well as develop a deeper understanding of the historical context through which these collections are viewed. Researchers will have new access to a trove of primary source materials enabling them to analyze musical trends and uncover narratives that contribute to a deeper understanding of this music and era.”

“Glenn Miller’s story is more than a musical story,” Okigbo pointed out. “His is also the American story when examined within the broader context of his ambition to shape the sound of quintessentially American musical genres—jazz, swing and big band—as well as his role in the war efforts during World War II.”

Glen Miller band plaque

Down Beat Awardgiven to Glenn Miller and his orchestra, chosen by the Musicians of America in a national poll as the “most popular sweet bandin 1941.”

He continued, “The digitization of the collections therefore makes his story easily accessible from anywhere in the world by liberating it from the confines of the traditional archival structure.”

Acknowledging marginalization, reviving a genre

An important goal of preserving this unique piece of American history is to highlight the contributions of marginalized people to what is known as “the Glenn Miller sound.”

“We believe this collection contains stories of people who contributed to the sound and the music of the big band era but did not get the recognition they deserved because of the color of their skin or their personal background,” Tallman said. “Processing this collection is an opportunity to fill those archival silences and make sure the stories are not just about Glenn Miller.”

Along with providing recognition of Miller’s significant contributions to the music of the Silent Generation (those born between 1928 and 1946), RaD plans to broaden his legacy by reaching new groups interested in what the collections have to offer.

Said Tallman, “Glenn Miller has an iconic sound that is recognizable even without being a fan of the music. I hope by making his broader story available we can both support scholarship and create a richer experience for music lovers.”

Stay tuned—over the next 24 months, 鶹ѰBoulder University Libraries will offer a series of updates during the archival process.