IF YOU GO
What: Glenn Miller Orchestra in concert.
When: 8 tonight and Saturday.
Where: Imperial Ballroom, Chattanooga Choo Choo, 1400 Market St.
Admission: $40 and $60.
“So Chattanooga Choo Choo/Won’t you choo-choo me home?/Chattanooga Choo Choo/Won’t you choo-choo me home?”
Those closing lyrics to “Chattanooga Choo Choo” will take on special meaning tonight for Chattanooga native Valerie Duke.
Since August, Duke, 24, has been the lead female vocalist for the Glenn Miller Orchestra, which is scheduled to perform tonight and Saturday in the Imperial Ballroom of the Chattanooga landmark, where Duke was working when she auditioned for the job.
As one of the singing waiters at the popular Station House restaurant, Duke was constantly bringing big-band music to manager Allan Brooks for approval to add to her repertoire.
When he learned the Glenn Miller Orchestra would be returning for a show at the Choo Choo, he arranged an audition for Duke. What she thought might be a part-time or fill-in job turned into a full-time role when the previous lead vocalist retired.
Since August, Duke has been traveling the country, and Japan, which the band visits for a month every year, performing two solo numbers and two vocal group numbers with the Moonlight Serenaders.
“Japan loves Glenn Miller,” Duke said. “All of the theaters were huge and sold out.”
A lifelong fan of big-band music, Duke said singing with the group has been a great experience.
“It’s been better than I could have imagined,” she said. “The guys are really a lot of help and great to be around.”
The orchestra performs almost nightly, doing around 300 shows a year. The band is named after one of the most successful big-band leaders of all time.
Miller died in a plane crash in 1944, but his music and legacy have lived on. The current touring band was formed in 1956 and has been performing since.
From 1938 to 1944, the Glenn Miller Orchestra turned out hit records such as “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” “Moonlight Serenade,” “In the Mood,” “Tuxedo Junction” and “(I’ve Got a Gal in) Kalamazoo.”
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...