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World War II began in 1939 and quickly escalated due to the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The leadership of the U.S. Army reviewed “lessons learned” during World War I and one of the most crucial things they noticed was the importance of military bands in the war effort. Gen. John J. Pershing, commander of all Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe, strongly believed “bands were essential to troop morale.” Army leaders began rebuilding the band program for the U.S. Army and the Army Air Forces. They vigorously recruited 20 prominent musical figures into a U.S. Army Specialist Corps including Maj. Howard Bronson, Glenn Miller, George S. Howard, Dr. Mark Hindsley and Dr. Glenn Cliffe Bainum. The Army Air Forces Band (AAF) was established in 1941. Bronson, Miller, Howard and Hindsley were key figures in the formation and utilization of Army Air Forces bands in support of the war effort.

Diligently taking a census of the draft eligible musicians who comprised our nation’s major symphony orchestras and top dance bands, Lt. Alf Heiberg, conductor of The AAF Band, recruited the finest orchestral musicians coupled with the best in swing … and so was born “The Official Band of the Army Air Corps.”

Lt. Heiberg at his desk

(Lt. Heiberg at his desk)


1942 First coast-to-coast radio broadcast

1943 Established first official chorus

1943 Produced first Long Playing (LP) recording

1943 Performed with Marlene Dietrich

1943-1945 Production of 2 short films: “The Army Air Forces Band” conducted by Lt. Heiberg; “Serenade to Britain” conducted by Capt. Howard

1944-1945 Two international tours to Canada and Great Britain


Five months after its official activation on October 1, 1941, the AAF was up to 36 members. The AAF Band is pictured here with its first “bandleader,” Lt. Alf Heiberg. Flight-line, Bolling Field, Washington D.C. on March 15, 1942.

The AAF Band, at 54 members, led by Lt. Alf Heiberg, in front of the U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C., 1942


Heiberg final group photo -The 77-member AAF Band poses in front of building P-20


44-member AAF Band in front of Building P-20 on Bolling Field, Washington, D.C., 1942.

The newly formed AAF Band information on the flight line before a C-47 transport plane. In front are Lt. Alf Heiberg and Drum Major Master Sgt.John Lowry. Bolling Field, Washington, D.C. Mar. 1942.



Early Training for The Army Air Forces Band

Like the present-day Marine Band, members of The Army Air Forces Band did not attend basic training or go to technical training schools. Most of the members had advanced degrees in music and/or a vast amount of professional music experience, having performed with the top dance bands and major symphony orchestras throughout the U.S.

Military training was provided “in-house” and included a variety of subjects and tasks including: military history, customs and courtesies, inspections, drill, ceremony, and arms qualification training.

1940, The USAAF Band marching various units from the “chow hall” to the flight line.

The AAF Band undergoes a rifle inspection, conducted by Sgt. Don Hammond at Bolling Field, Washington, D.C., Sept. 1942

Saturday morning inspection, 1942


The USAF Bandsman School (1945-1964)



Originally titled the Bandsman Training School, the training program was established in October of 1945, just following the end of World War II with Col. Howard as the first commandant. In 1947, it was renamed The USAF Bandsman School. The mission of the school (as approved by General Henry "Hap” Arnold) was to rebuild the music program following the rapid and indiscriminate demobilization of AAF bands following the end of the war. The school provided advanced training to over two thousand bandsmen and set the standards for eighty-three Air Force bands worldwide. Members of The Army Air Forces Band served as faculty members, training and infusing premier band standards into all the students who attended.


Historical Highlights: 1942


American composer Irving Berlin visits the AAF Band barracks to coordinate a war effort fund raising project. From left is Maj. Hugh R. Parks (the band’s first commanding officer), drummer is unknown, Lt. Alf Heiberg and Irving Berlin

Bolling Field, Washington D.C., Sept. 1942

The Army Air Forces Band creates its first official chorus, with SSgt Harold Tharp, Director

The AAF Band produces its first coast to coast broadcast on NBC radio from Bolling Field,Washington D.C. with Lt. Alf Heiberg conducting. Seated are NBC commentator Howard Chandler Christy (white suit) and the Honorable Senator and Mrs. Claude Pepper (at the table), Sept. 1942.




The United States Army Air Force Band (1942)” – was the first short video commercially produced about The AAF Band. The movie was produced by Gordon Hollingshead for Warner Brothers and the Vitaphone Corporation. The featurette was released on September 19, 1942 for broadcast via television and local theaters all over the world. The film features Lt. Alf Heiberg, General Henry H. Arnold, The AAF Band, the AAF Band’s Chorus and various flying units from the Army Air Forces.


Historical Highlights: 1943

The AAF Band produced its first 78 rpm recording.  The 1943 recording of George Gershwin’s Classic Rhapsody in Blue, transcribed for band by Ferde Grofé, was recorded by “The Official Band of the Army Air Forces” under the direction of Capt. Alf Heiberg.  Capt. Heiberg’s initiative to perform and broadcast American popular music did much to garner American support for the war effort, while uplifting the morale of Airmen stationed overseas.   


The Band performs in a motorized parade on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C to support a war bond drive.


In April of 1943, The AAF Band presented an outdoor concert at Washington’s National Airport, which featured German motion picture star and singer Marlene Dietrich who was a strong supporter of the US War Bond effort.  Arlington, Virginia.


First International Tours

Captain Howard became the second commander and conductor of the Air Force Band on
March 1, 1944.

Capt. Howard & The AAF Band on first international tour (Ottawa, Canada – 1944)


World War II Deployment (1944-45)

On August 13, 1944 General Arnold and Sir Charles Portal, the British Air Marshal for the Royal Air Force, agreed to an exchange of bands to boost the morale and lift the spirits of both their nations. Via an already established lend-lease program, The AAF Band toured Great Britain and France and The Royal Air Force Band toured the United States. This tour would eventually plant the seeds to have The AAF Band and Singing Sergeants designated as “America’s International Musical Ambassadors.”

In 1945 The Army Air Force band produced its second short film “Serenade to Britain” conducted by Capt. Howard.

Photo Credits:
Motion picture produced by the 3rd AAF Combat Camera Unit with the cooperation of The Royal Air Force. Sound Recording: American Broadcasting Station in Europe. Captain George S. Howard, conductor; WO/JG John Barrows, assistant conductor; Sgt. Victor Babin, piano; Sgt. Glenn Darwin, baritone vocalist; and the Five Kernels of Korn, led by SSgt Harry Rantsch (formerly principal trumpet and arranger with the Glenn Miller Band).


The Army Air Forces Band in Paris after WWII


The Army Air Forces Band, ”Pershing’s Own” U.S. Army Band and Major Glenn Miller Army Air Forces Overseas Orchestra intersected in Paris, France in March of 1945. Five months later, members of the Army of the Occupation arrived. Pictured (standing, third from the left) is the AF Band’s future commander and conductor Arnald D. Gabriel.


Howard’s first recordings includes a 5-record set with the same music performed by The AAF Band during its WWII deployment to the European theater of operations. These recordings were sent to radio stations for nationwide broadcasts to promote public understanding and support for the war effort and to keep the American public informed on how their sons and daughters were doing overseas. The end of World War II marked the subsequent disbandment of “The Official Band of the Army Air Forces.”