Harry Haag James (March 15, 1916 – July 5, 1983) was a musician who is best known as a trumpet playing band leader who led a big bandfrom 1939 to 1946. He broke up his band for a short period in 1947 but shortly after he re-organized his band and was active again with his band from then until his death in 1983. He was especially known among musicians for his astonishing technical proficiency as well as his superior tone, and was extremely influential on up and coming trumpet players from the late 1930s into the 1940s. He was also an actor in a number of motion pictures that usually featured his bands in some way.
From left: Stan "Cuddles" Johnson, Fraser MacPherson, Bob Smith, Harry James, Al Johnson, Stew Barnett. (The Cave Supper Club, May 1970)From left: Harry James, Lucille Ball, Betty Grable. (The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show, 1958)
Harry James was born in Albany, Georgia, the son of a bandleader in a traveling circus, the Haag Circus. His mother was an acrobat and horseback rider. According to the Bill Sterns Sports Newsreel broadcast on 9/12/1942, on which James appeared, he was saved from being trampled, at the age of 6, by his mother's horse after performing with the horse. By the age of 10 he was taking trumpet lessons from his father, who placed him on a strict daily practice schedule. Each day, James was given one page to learn from the Arban's book and was not allowed to pursue any other pastime until he had learned that particular page.
In 1931 his family settled in Beaumont, Texas. It was here, at 15 years of age, that James began playing in local dance bands. James played regularly with Herman Waldman's band, and at one performance was noticed by nationally popular Ben Pollack. In 1935 he joined Pollack's band, but at the start of 1937 left to join Benny Goodman's orchestra, where he stayed through 1938. He was nicknamed "The Hawk" early in his career for his ability to sight-read. A common joke was that if a fly landed on his written music, Harry James would play it. His low range had a warmth associated with the cornet and even the flugelhorn, but this sound was underrecorded in favor of James' brilliant high register.
With financial backing from Goodman, in January 1939 James debuted his own big band in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but it didn't click until 1941 when he added a string section. This big band became known as Harry James and His Music Makers. His hit "You Made Me Love You" was in the Top 10 during the week of December 7, 1941. He was in two featured roles in two films, Private Buckaroo and Springtime in the Rockies. He toured with the band into the 1980s. He started recording with the minor label Varsity in 1940. To this day the Harry James Orchestra still exists, now led by Fred Radke.
His was the first "name band" to employ vocalist Frank Sinatra, in 1939. James signed Sinatra to a one year contract, of which Sinatra worked seven months before going to sing for Tommy Dorsey He wanted to change Sinatra's name to 'Frankie Satin' but Sinatra refused. His later band included drummer Buddy Rich. His featured vocalist was Helen Forrest. Johnny MacAfee was featured on the sax and vocals and Corky Corcoran was a youthful sax prodigy.
A major reason James disbanded his big band group in 1946 was lack of income, so James decided to call it quits. After disbanding his band, he continued his career in a smaller jazz group, Harry James and His Music Makers.
James was married three times. He married singer Louise Tobin on May 4, 1935, and they had two children. They divorced in 1943.That same year, he married actress Betty Grable. They had two daughters, Victoria and Jessica, before divorcing in 1965. James married a third time on December 27, 1967   to Las Vegas showgirl Joan Boyd, whom he would divorce in March 1970. Contrary to some assertions, he did not marry a fourth time. He had five children (two by Tobin, two by Grable, one by Boyd) and (as of his death) 16 grandchildren.
In 1983, James was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer, but he continued to work, playing his last professional job on June 26, 1983, in Los Angeles, California, just nine days before his death in Las Vegas, Nevada. The job had become his final performance with the Harry James Orchestra. He died exactly 40 years after his marriage to Betty Grable (July 5, 1943), who was buried exactly 30 years after that date (July 5, 1973). Frank Sinatra gave the eulogy at his funeral, held in Las Vegas.