Afterglow Jazz and American Popular Song

A Soldier And A Song: Johnny Desmond In The 1940s

Known as "the GI Sinatra," Johnny Desmond won a wide following in the World War II years as the singer for Glenn Miller's military orchestra.

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Singer Johnny Desmond and saxophonist Tex Beneke on the cover of a February 1946 issue of DownBeat Magazine.

Photo: Magazine cover

Miller veterans: singer Johnny Desmond and saxophonist Tex Beneke a few months after the end of World War II.

They called him “the GI Sinatra,” and singer Johnny Desmond earned that nickname, along with his sergeant stripes, as a member of Glenn Miller’s World War II Army Air Forces orchestra, where the baritone crooner caused such a swoon with his sound that he also became known as “the Creamer.”

Desmond was born in Detroit in 1920, and as a boy used to sing in his father’s grocery store, attracting the attention of a radio producer. As a teenager Desmond put together a vocal group that ended up being hired by the popular bandleader Bob Crosby, and from there he made the jump to a high-profile vocalist spot with drummer Gene Krupa’s orchestra. Fellow band singer Anita O’Day later wrote of Desmond,

Johnny was a good looking, personable kid, but not exactly the typical Krupa cat. He vocalized before he sang, did things properly and took good care of himself. How he came to join Krupa, I could never figure out, because most of us were hard-drinking, high-living cats. Johnny didn’t smoke, drink, or do dope, and as far as I know, he was true to the pretty wife he had at home. He was a straight cat in every way. It paid off.

After enlisting in the army in Desmond wrote to Glenn Miller, who was putting together a military orchestra, and asked to for the chance to work with the popular bandleader. Miller arranged for the singer’s transfer, and for the rest of the war Desmond appeared on numerous recordings and broadcasts, building a reputation that seemed to ensure success as a solo act once global hostilities had ceased. In this edition of Afterglow we hear some of those recordings and broadcasts, as well as some early sides that Desmond made with Gene Krupa.

Listen to a previous Afterglow show devoted to Glenn Miller’s Army Air Force band:

Glenn Miller Goes To War With The Army Air Force Band

Listen to a 1973 interview with Johnny Desmond:

Johnny Desmond interview

Music Heard On This Episode

The Caissons Go Rolling Along
Gene Krupa — Johnny Desmond: The Complete Early Sides (Collector's Choice, 2002)
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The Caissons Go Rolling Along
Gene Krupa — Johnny Desmond: The Complete Early Sides (Collector's Choice, 2002)

Notes: 8:01

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I Love You
Glenn Miller AAF — The Secret Broadcasts (RCA, 1996)

Notes: 8:03

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This Time The Dream's On Me
Gene Krupa — Johnny Desmond: The Complete Early Sides (Collector's Choice, 2002)

Notes: 8:07

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Keep 'Em Flying
Gene Krupa — Johnny Desmond: The Complete Early Sides (Collector's Choice, 2002)

Notes: 8:10

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Poinciana
Glenn Miller AAF — The Secret Broadcasts (RCA, 1996)

Notes: 8:14

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Moon Dreams
Glenn Miller AAF — The Secret Broadcasts (RCA, 1996)

Notes: 8:19

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Speak Low
Glenn Miller AAF — The Secret Broadcasts (RCA, 1996)

Notes: 8:22

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A Fellow On A Furlough
Glenn Miller AAF (midpoint bed) — The Secret Broadcasts (RCA, 1996)

Notes: 8:27

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Long Ago And Far Away
Glenn Miller AAF — Missing Chapters V. 9: King Porter Stomp (Avid, 2007)

Notes: 8:31

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Going My Way
Glenn Miller AAF — The Secret Broadcasts (RCA, 1996)

Notes: 8:35

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All The Things You Are
Glenn Miller AAF — Missing Chapters V. 5: Complete Abbey Road Recordings (Griffin, 1996)

Notes: 8:39

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The Trolley Song
Glenn Miller AAF

Notes: 8:42

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C'est Si Bon
Johnny Desmond — C'est La Vie (Vintage Jazz Band, 1946)

Notes: 8:49

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I'll Be Seeing You
Glenn Miller AAF — Missing Chapters V. 4: Red Calvary March (Avid, 2007)

Notes: 8:54

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David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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  • Dr. John Fox

    A great companion piece to the earlier “Glenn Miller Goes To War…” broadcast. As I have often said, if Johnny Desmond were the “GI Sinatra” of World War II, it’s not inappropriate to think of Frank Sinatra as the “Civilian Desmond” of the same era. Johnny recorded some of the most beautiful songs ever with the AAF Band.

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