A short history of…”Moonlight Serenade” (Glenn Miller, 1939)
“Moonlight Serenade” is one of the most popular songs of the swing era. It also perfectly captures the style of its composer Glenn Miller, because it makes use of the Schillinger System. This is a method of musical composition based on mathematical processes developed by music theorist Joseph Schillinger, an important figure who greatly influenced the “Glenn Miller sound.”
Although it was first recorded in 1939, “Moonlight Serenade” allegedly evolved from a 1935 song titled “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” that had been written by Miller with lyrics by Eddie Heyman. This version was never recorded, but the song was adapted into an instrumental piece that Miller began performing as his signature tune as early as 1938, and was released as “Moonlight Serenade” on RCA Bluebird in 1939.
The record became a smash hit. The fact that it was one of Miller’s five records in the top 20 of the Billboard charts in 1939 shows the extent of the bandleader’s popularity at this time.
“Moonlight Serenade” was recorded and performed by many of Miller’s swing era contemporaries, including Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa. It remained a popular song among future generations of jazz players and was covered by such artists as Charlie Haden, Chet Baker, and Henri Mancini.
After the success of the 1939 release of “Moonlight Serenade,” Mitchell Parish wrote lyrics to the song. Although the popularity of the instrumental exceeds that of the vocal version to this day, Frank Sinatra is among the biggest names to have recorded the song a number of times, beginning in 1965, when it was featured on his Moonlight Sinatra album.