Billy May

Picture of Billy May

Billy May was a very good trumpet player, but his influence on The Big Band Era was felt most in his skills as an arranger.  May wrote arrangements for many of the top singers of the time, including Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Prima, Bing Crosby, The Andrews Sisters and many, many more.

May got his start in 1938 when he joined Charlie Barnet's Orchestra.  He played trumpet and arranged for the band.  His arrangement of the Ray Noble's "Cherokee" became a major hit of the era and a defining song for Charlie Barnet.  May remained with Barnet from 1938 to 1940 and played a large role in Barnet's rise as a bandleader.

In 1940, Glenn Miller hired May away from Barnet.  Billy May's trumpet playing can be heard on many of those Miller hits from the early 1940's, but his arrangements were rarely used. His arranging skills were, in my opinion, under-utilized with Glenn Miller's Orchestra. May's trumpet playing mixed well into the "Miller Sound", but his arrangements did not.  Jerry Gray and Miller himself were the arrangers responsible for that classic sound and style, but May's contributions should never be overlooked.

After leaving Miller's orchestra, May relocated to Los Angeles, where he became a much-coveted arranger and studio orchestra leader, working for top recording stars of the day.  He also led some good bands of his own that put out some great, swinging music throughout the 1950's.

Listen to "Charmaine" by Billy May and His Orchestra from 1952

In the late 1950's, May made his debut as film composer and went on to find much success in film and television through the 1960's and 70's.

You can hear many of Billy May's arrangements and recording right here on Swing City Radio.

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