BENEKE, GORDON LEE [TEX]
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BENEKE, GORDON LEE [TEX] (1914–2000). Gordon Lee “Tex” Beneke, swing-band tenor saxophonist and vocalist, was born in Fort Worth on February 12, 1914. He was the son of Dixie Lee (Delmage) Beneke and Frank Snyder Beneke, who was head of the press room at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Young Gordon started playing the saxophone at the age of nine, and he organized a neighborhood band when he was thirteen. Beneke attended Central High School (later known as Paschal High School) in Fort Worth and was an active member of the school band. He worked with various bands until 1935, when he joined the Ben Young band.
In 1937, on a recommendation by drummer Gene Krupa, Glenn Miller hired Beneke for his band. During the first rehearsal, while playing the tune "Doin' the Jive," Miller changed the lyric, "Hi, there, Buck, what'cha say?" to "Hi, there, Tex, what'cha say?" From that time on, Beneke was known as Tex. He became one of Miller's favorites, even though the other tenor saxophonist in the band, Al Klink, was considered to be the better musician. Miller considered Beneke to be "not merely a musician but also a commercial personality," and so he never missed a chance to showcase him. Beneke was often featured on vocals with the Modernaires. Some of his biggest vocal successes were "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo," "Ida," "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree," and "Chattanooga Choo Choo." Jazz critic Gunther Schuller tepidly praised Beneke as "a consistent player, reliable within his limitations, and never really embarrassing." Nevertheless, according to Dave Oliphant, Beneke "became 'world famous' as the most prominent musician during the heyday of Miller's hugely successful swing-era band." He won both the Down Beat and Metronome polls for the most popular tenor saxophonist of 1941 and 1942.
During World War II Beneke served in the United States Navy Band. In 1944 a plane carrying Miller disappeared en route to Paris, and after demobilization Beneke led a band first billed as the Glenn Miller Orchestra under the Direction of Tex Beneke, subsequently called Tex Beneke and the Glenn Miller Orchestra, then Tex Beneke and his Music in the Miller Manner, and finally Tex Beneke and his Orchestra. During this time, Beneke tried to modernize the band's style but met resistance from Don Haynes, the band's long-time manager. Eli Oberstein, RCA Victor recording chief, and Miller's widow, Helen, also wanted the band to stick to the "old Miller style." In December 1950 Beneke left the Miller organization. His dispute with the Miller estate may have been the reason that he was noticeably absent from the 1953 film The Glenn Miller Story, even though he had played a very prominent role in the band's success. Beneke continued to perform with his own band for many years, playing Miller pieces as well as those of other swing bands. He made recordings of many of the earlier hits on which he had performed, and in 1972 he recorded for Time-Life Records' The Swing Era compilation. Beneke remained active as a bandleader into the 1990s. In 1996 he was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame.
Beneke was married three times. He was first married to Marguerite Griffin. After her death in 1968 he married Betty Beastrom. She died in 1978, and he later married a third time. Beneke had no children. He died at a convalescent home in Costa Mesa, California, on May 30, 2000, and was buried in Greenwood Memorial Park in Fort Worth. He was survived by his wife Sandra.
John Chilton, Who's Who of Jazz: Storyville to Swing Street (Philadelphia: Chilton, 1971). Leonard Feather, ed., The Encyclopedia of Jazz (New York: Horizon Press, 1955). New York Times, June 1, 2000. Dave Oliphant, Texan Jazz (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996). Gunther Schuller, The Swing Era: The Development of Jazz, 1930–1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989). George T. Simon, Glenn Miller and His Orchestra (New York: Bigbee Productions, 1974).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.Roy G. Scudday, "BENEKE, GORDON LEE [TEX]," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbeal), accessed January 30, 2015. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on November 7, 2014. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.