Larry Clinton

Photo of Larry Clinton

One of the most popular composers and arrangers of the 1930s, Larry Clinton began his musical career as a self-described “frustrated cornet player with a ten-thirty lip,” meaning his lip would give out at that time every night. Bandleader Ferde Grofe put him to work as an arranger, and he quickly found his niche, working for a number of orchestras over the next several years. Clinton arranged for Claude Hopkins and Isham Jones in 1933 and the Dorsey Brothers in 1935. He joined the Casa Loma Orchestra in late 1935, where he remained for two years. In 1937, he arranged and wrote for Bunny Berigan, Louis Armstrong, and Tommy Dorsey. After Dorsey scored big hits with two original Clinton numbers, “Satan Takes a Holiday” and “The Dipsy Doodle,” both he and RCA Victor chief Eli Oberstein encouraged Clinton to form his own outfit.

In November 1937, with Oberstein’s backing and using a studio orchestra, Clinton began a weekly radio show and recorded his first tracks. After a good initial reception, he debuted a live band in the summer of 1938. His catchy tunes quickly made him a popular attraction, though he never achieved the prominence of a Dorsey or a Glenn Miller. The group’s catalog, reflecting Clinton’s arrangements in general, was built around several stock clichés, which, though well executed, presented little variety. Clinton’s compositions and arrangements sometimes proved controversial with other songwriters and arrangers, who claimed that he stole riffs from them or that he repurposed older material. In particular, Clinton had a penchant for re-writing the classics. Two of his biggest hits, “My Reverie” and “Our Love” were adapted from Debussy and Tchaikovsky respectively.

Clinton’s biggest asset was singer Bea Wain, considered by many to be the best vocalist of that era. Wain joined Clinton in the studio in late 1937, and her presence was sorely missed when she left in May 1939 for radio work. Mary Dugan replaced her. Carol Bruce sang with the band in mid-1938 when Wain took a break to marry radio announcer André Baruch. By March 1940, Helen Southern was female vocalist. Southern left in September to get married, with Peggy Mann replacing her. Novelty singer and trombonist Ford Leary joined the band in summer 1938. He briefly left in October 1939 but soon returned as a vocalist only, his trombone chair having been filled during his absence. Leary remained until late summer 1940, replaced by saxophonist Butch Stone. Male balladeer Terry Allen had joined the band by August 1939. He was dropped during a personnel reshuffle in January 1941.

Clinton used other arrangements besides his own. Les Brown wrote some of the group’s early book, and Van Alexander began arranging for the band in 1941, bringing with him drummer Irv Cottler. Cottler’s rhythm became key to the band’s 1940s sound. Clinton’s compositions were always lively and danceable. Unfortunately, he was unable to record his most popular numbers, the two aforementioned Dorsey songs and “Study in Brown,” because they had previously been recorded, the latter by Bunny Berigan, on the same label. That didn’t prevent him from performing them live, however, and they quickly became his signature songs.

The band’s demise happened quickly in late 1941 when Clinton took a two-week vacation to Bermuda, during which time he didn’t pay his musicians.[1] Several of Clinton’s men found other jobs rather than go two weeks without pay. Then came an announcement that Clinton planned to focus on recordings when he returned rather than on playing live. Though Clinton hurriedly denied this, the exodus of personnel continued, including vocalists Stone and Mann. Rumors circulated that he intended to junk his band, which he also quickly denied. Having lost half his men, he was unable to recover, and he disbanded at the start of 1942, giving up music to spend “all possible time” flying his private plane as part of the Atlantic Coast patrol before entering the Army Air Force.

During the war, Clinton served as a flight instructor in southeast Asia. After his discharge in 1946, he worked as musical director at the small Cosmo label, recording several sides during his stay. He briefly toured in 1948 and remained active with a group until 1950. He spent the next decade working off and on in semi-retirement. In the mid-1950s, he re-recorded his most popular numbers in stereo for RCA Victor. He officially retired in 1961.

Clinton was a consummate businessman, and he was able to retire in comfort, first to Florida and then to Arizona. In his later years he became a science fiction and humor writer. Larry Clinton passed away in 1985.


  1. It was normal for bandleaders to not pay their musicians and vocalists during layoffs. Bands often ran on tight budgets, and when they didn’t play they didn’t earn. ↩︎

Vocalist Timeline

Carol Bruce
Mary Dugan
Helen Southern

Note: Dates may be approximate. Some vocalists may not be listed due to lack of information on their dates of employment.


  1. Simon, George T. The Big Bands. 4th ed. New York: Schirmer, 1981.
  2. “He Had a 10:30 Lip!” Down Beat Sep. 1937: 30.
  3. “Radio and Wax Firms Make Up.” Billboard 13 Nov. 1937: 19.
  4. “On the Disks.” The Williamsburg Flat Hat [Williamsburg, VA] 16 Nov. 1937: 4.
  5. Orodenker, M.H. “Reviews of Records.” Billboard 20 Nov. 1937: 20.
  6. Orodenker, M.H. “Reviews of Records.” Billboard 11 Dec. 1937: 17.
  7. “Vaudeville Reviews: Paramount, New York.” Billboard 26 Nov. 1938: 33.
  8. Sykes, Guy. “Clinton Steals from the Dead.” Down Beat Feb. 1939: 18.
  9. “The Reviewing Stand: Larry Clinton.” Billboard 4 Feb. 1939: 15.
  10. “Mary Dugan.” Down Beat Jun. 1939: 1.
  11. “Terry Allen Changes.” Down Beat Sep. 1939: 13.
  12. “Leary & Allen Set For Leader Jobs.” Down Beat 1 Nov. 1939: 7.
  13. “F. Leary Junks Horn to Sing.” Down Beat 15 Nov. 1939: 4.
  14. “Critics in the Doghouse.” Down Beat 15 Jan. 1940: 7.
  15. “Clinton and Shaw Trade Disc Labels.” Down Beat 15 Mar. 1940: 19.
  16. “Larry Clinton Gets New Girl Singer.” Down Beat 15 Mar. 1940: 20.
  17. Hoefer, George Jr. “The Hot Box.” Down Beat 1 Aug. 1940: 15.
  18. “New Recordings Are Announced.” Berkeley Daily Gazette 4 Sep. 1940: 8.
  19. “New York News.” Down Beat 15 Sep. 1940: 12.
  20. Durham and McKee. “Jazz Jottings.” The Gettysburgian [Gettysburg, Pennsylvania] 24 Oct. 1940: 2.
  21. Advertisement. “Larry Clinton.” The Auburn Plainsman [Auburn, Georgia] 8 Nov. 1940: 12.
  22. “Clinton's Band Celebrates.” Down Beat 1 Jan. 1941: 24.
  23. “Butch Stone, Carroll Join Larry Clinton.” Down Beat 1 Feb. 1941: 12.
  24. “Night Club Reviews: Hotel Sherman, Panther Room, Chicago.” Billboard 22 Feb. 1941: 20.
  25. “Clinton Uses Strings for New Records.” Down Beat 15 Jun. 1941: 15.
  26. “Vaudeville Reviews: Earle, Philadelphia.” Billboard 11 Oct. 1941: 23.
  27. “'Not Junking My Band'—Larry Clinton.” Down Beat 15 Oct. 1941: 19.
  28. “The Solder Steals a Kiss.” Down Beat 15 Nov. 1941: 1.
  29. “Peggy Mann for Powell Band.” Down Beat 15 Nov. 1941: 7.
  30. “Larry Clinton To Concentrate On Recordings.” Down Beat 15 Nov. 1941: 15.
  31. “Orchestra Notes.” Billboard 28 Feb. 1942: 23.