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Medford, Ore., Musician Keeps the War Troops Jumping

During World War II, keeping troops entertained on their long sea voyages was a major task. Technical Sgt. Larry Wagner of Ashland, Ore., knew just how to do it.

His motto was “Play church music for the chaplain, martial music for the longtime Marines and “One-o’clock-Jump” for the jitterbugs.”

Wagner played in bands at Ashland High School and the University of Oregon, and eventually moved on to Tin Pan Alley in New York where he played, arranged and composed for Paul Whiteman, and Glen Gray’s Casa Loma Orchestra.

But for thousands of troops, Wagner’s Marine Corps Band could play just about anything a sailor or Marine asked for.  It was like having a living juke-box. Besides jive and swing numbers, the band could play classics as well.

After the war, Wagner continued to work with the Casa Loma group, then wrote musicals for high school productions like The Sound of America and led his own swing band. Several of Wagner’s songs were top 10 hits. Some of his most popular compositions include: Lover’s Lullaby, No Name Jive, and Whistler’s Mother-in-Law.

Sources: "Larry Wagner." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikipedia Foundation, 15 Dec. 2015. Web. 13 Feb. 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Wagner; "Medford Marine Can Dish Up Jive or Classical Music to Liven Long Sea Voyage." Medford News 6 Oct. 1944: 1. Print.

Alice Mullaly is a graduate of Oregon State and Stanford University, and taught mathematics for 42 years in high schools in Nyack, New York; Mill Valley, California; and Hedrick Junior High School in Medford. Alice has been an Southern Oregon Historical Society volunteer for nearly 30 years, the source of many of her “As It Was” stories.