Gordon “Tex” Beneke

Gordon Lee Beneke was born February 12, 1914 in Fort Worth, Tarrant County, Texas to Frank Snyder Beneke (1890-1966) and Dixie L. Delmage Beneke (1895-1988). Dixie’s parents were Edgar and Ella Delmage. Her parents had been born in France and Germany, respectively, and in the 1900 census, Edgar’s profession was listed as cigar maker and their small family was living in Huntsville, Walker County, Texas. Sometimes very interesting comes out in the census reports. In the 1910 census, Edgar Delmage’s birthplace was shown to be “Atlantic Ocean” as though he were born at sea, perhaps when his family was en route to the United States. Frank’s family tree indicates that his family had been in the United States a bit longer. His own grandfather Beneke had been born in Germany (Prussia). Frank’s profession was listed as pressman, which is to say that he worked in the printing department around the time that Tex was born. He eventually ran the press for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Tex began playing saxophone at age nine. The Benekes were living on Allen Avenue just outside the downtown area. By the time he was about twenty-one, Tex was playing professionally with area bands. Accounts conflict on how he got the nickname “Tex.” Some say he picked it up while playing for his early bands. Others say that Glenn Miller gave it to him. Tex joined the Glenn Miller band about 1938 quickly becoming a featured player in the group. He was a key player in the band and contributed to its signature sound on the band’s greatest and most enduring hit songs, including “In The Mood,” “A String of Pearls,” “Chattanooga Choo Choo,” “I Got a Gal in Kalamazoo” (“A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I got a gal in Kalamazoo”), and “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.”

The touring group of the Miller band disbanded with the entry of the United States into World War II. Miller formed a service band associated with the United States Army Air Corps that was based in England. Miller died on December 15, 1944 when the plane he was a passenger in went down in the English Channel on a flight to France, where Miller was scheduled to perform. Numerous theories developed around Miller’s death including several conspiracy theories, but most likely the aircraft either suffered icing or some other mechanical failure or was hit by friendly fire as it was flying low over the Channel. The bodies nor the aircraft were ever recovered.

Beneke was not associated with any Miller band during the war. Beneke had joined the United States Navy and was running a Navy band in Oklahoma when he was invited to reunite with former members of the old band after the war and form a Glenn Miller tribute band. The band quickly became successful and achieved popularity.

Beneke led the band for several years before leaving due to creative distances with the Miller family and estate. One of the differences was over performance styles, including the tradition of performing the songs just as the band had played them when Miller was alive with little or no modification to the arrangements. So, after leaving the reconstituted Miller band in 1950, Beneke formed his own bands and continued to perform in the big band genre. Tex was well known as an instrumentalist, vocalist and band leader, usually performing in a big band style.

Image credit: discogs.com (Miller on the left, Beneke on the right)

Over the years Tex appeared in a number of films, including “Sun Valley Serenade” and “Orchestra Wives,” both of which featured the Miller band. Looking back, the creative differences with the Miller estate may seem somewhat trivial to readers, his break with the band led to his omission from the 1953 feature film, “The Glenn Miller Story.” He was also a frequent guest on television shows and his recordings were used on many soundtracks.

Tex continued to perform well into his senior years. He passed away at the age of 86 in Santa Ana, Orange County, California and is interred in Fort Worth, Texas at Greenwood Memorial Park and Mausoleum on White Settlement Road west of downtown marked by a simple flat headstone in the name of Gordon Beneke. His honors include being recognized as a musician and conductor and he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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