The roots of the Airmen of Note go back to two well-known World War II musical organizations - the Glenn Miller Army Air Force Band, and the AAF Headquarters Band at Bolling Field. Little needs to be said about the legendary Miller band. With its broadcasts and personal appearances, it earned a very special place in the hearts of hundreds of thousands of Allied servicemen, both at home and overseas. General Jimmy Doolittle paid the band the ultimate tribute when he said ". . . next to a letter from home, that organization was the greatest morale builder in the European Theater of Operations."
The Airmen of Note were formed to carry on the musical traditions of the Miller AAF Band. But the relationship has another aspect as well. It was while stationed at Bolling Field that the Miller AAF band made its final appearances in the last weeks of 1945. So the Airmen of Note physically as well as musically picked up exactly where the Miller AAF Band had left off.
The Miller AAF Band actually spent only the last few weeks of its existence at Bolling Field. The resident musical unit at Bolling was the Army Air Forces Headquarters Band, the unit that would eventually become the United States Air Force Band. It began its existence as a small field band in 1941 under the direction of Capt. Alf Heiberg.
Bolling Field was the headquarters of the Army Air Forces, and it became a very busy place once this country was drawn into World War II. Along with all of this activity came a heavy demand for music, for entertainment during off-duty hours as well as for the usual ceremonial functions. The Bolling Field Band was frequently called upon to provide dance units for service club dates and other jobs. So Capt. Heiberg began to build a first rate dance band, recruiting draft-eligible musicians from name bands as they passed through Washington.
The dance band, which was for a time fronted by ex-Jimmy Dorsey sax star Don Hammond, included trombonist John Shuman. John would later return to Bolling as the first musician selected for the Airman of Note.
In 1944 the Bolling Field Band became the headquarters band of the Army Air Forces, and Capt. George Howard was named director. The full concert band had 100 musicians, but it could be broken down into a number of smaller units for dance jobs, including two full-sized big bands. Two more future Airmen of Note, reed men Bruce Snyder and Lowell Smith, were members of Howard's band.
With the end of the war, all of this came to a halt. During the next four years there was no full-time dance/showband like the Miller AAF Band. The Air Force Band could put together a dance band if required, but it was just a pick-up group, playing mostly "stocks." These musicians had to devote most of their time and effort to ceremonial functions and the activities of the Concert Band.
But the need was still there. The man who recognized this need and who provided the impetus to bring the idea to reality was not a musician but a line officer, BG Sydney D Grubbs, the base commander at Bolling Air Force Base. The United States Air Force Band was one of the units under his command, and he was justifiably proud of that unit. The Band was made up of a number of highly regarded groups, including the Concert Band, the Air Force Symphony, the Strolling Strings, and the Singing Sergeants, as well as a variety of smaller groups that could be put together to fit special occasions. But Gen. Grubbs felt that something was still missing - a dance band to bring first-class entertainment to the officers and men of the Air Force, just as the Glenn Miller AAF Band had done so effectively during World War II.
Ben. Grubbs proposed this idea to Col. George S. Howard, commander of the Air Force Band, and found that he too had been thinking along similar lines. Mrs. Glenn Miller also gave her support to the plan. So the Colonel was asked to come up with staffing and budget requirements for such a group. Gen. Grubbs somehow came up with the necessary slots, and the band was on its way.