Charlie Barnet

Charlie Barnet

Charlie Barnet
Charlie Barnet.jpg

Charlie Barnett in The Fabulous Dorseys(1947).
Background information
Birth name Charles Daly Barnet
Born October 26, 1913
Origin New York CityU.S.
Died September 4, 1991 (aged 77)
Genres Swingbig band
Occupations Bandleadersaxophonist, composer
Instruments Saxophone
Years active 1932-1949
Associated acts Buddy DeFrancoRoy Eldridge,Neal HeftiBilly May

Charles Daly Barnet (October 26, 1913 – September 4, 1991) was an American jazzsaxophonist, composer, and bandleader.

His major recordings were “Skyliner”, “Cherokee“, “The Wrong Idea”, “Scotch and Soda”, “In a Mizz”, and “Southland Shuffle”.


Early life

Charlie Barnet was born in New York City. His parents divorced when he was two, and he was raised by his mother and her grandparents. His grandfather was Charles Frederick Daly, a vice-president for the New York Central Railroad, banker, and businessman.

Barnet attended various boarding schools, both in the New York and Chicago areas. He learned to play piano and saxophone as a child. He often left school to listen to music and to try to gain work as a musician.


Although he began his recording career in October 1933, Charlie Barnet was at the height of his popularity between 1939 and 1941, a period that began with his hit version of “Cherokee“, written by Ray Noble and arranged by Billy May. In 1944, Barnet had another big hit with “Skyliner”. In 1947, he started to switch from swing music to bebop. During his swing period his band included Buddy DeFrancoRoy EldridgeNeal HeftiLena Horne,Barney KesselDodo MarmorosaOscar Pettiford, and Art House, while later versions of the band included Maynard FergusonDoc Severinsen, and Clark Terry. Trumpeter Billy May was an arranger in the Charlie Barnet Orchestra before joining Glenn Miller in 1940.

He was one of the first bandleaders to integrate his band; the year is variously given as 1935 or 1937. He was an outspoken admirer of Count Basie and Duke Ellington. Ellington recorded the Charlie Barnet composition “In a Mizz”. In 1939, Basie lent Barnet his charts after Barnet’s had been destroyed in a fire at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles. Throughout his career he was an opponent of syrupy arrangements. In the song “The Wrong Idea”, he lampooned the “sweet” Big Band sound of the era. The song was written by Billy May, who later used the same satirical bent in his collaborations with Stan Freberg on Capitol Records including the Lawrence Welk satire “Wunnerful! Wunnerful!” Barnet’s was a notorious party band where drinking and vandalism were not uncommon. While Glenn Miller enforced strict standards of dress and deportment, Barnet was more interested in having fun, according to his autobiography The Swinging Years.

In 1949 he retired, apparently because he had lost interest in music. He was able to retire when he chose because he was one of the few heirs in a very wealthy family. He occasionally returned from retirement for brief tours but never returned to music full-time.

In September 1964, Barnet arranged a private party for his musical hero, Duke Ellington and orchestra to play at Palm Springs‘ San Jacinto country club. At the door, a small sign painted by Barnet said: “Any complaints about loud music or requests for excessive use of mutes will be grounds for instant expulsion (to a table in the parking lot). Any requests for folk music, twist, watusi, or rock and roll will result in instant execution by golf balls at 20 paces.”  Barnet did not play at the gathering.

Barnet was married eleven times and in his 1984 autobiography says, “I went through several more marital fiascos, but they were mostly Mexican marriages and quickly annulled, because they weren’t legal in the first place.”  His final marriage to Betty was for 33 years. He had one son, Charles D. Barnet, Jr, from an earlier marriage. During retirement, Barnet resided at homes in Palm Springs and San Diego, California. He kept a 46-foot boat in San Diego.

Barnet died from complications of Alzheimer’s disease and pneumonia at San Diego’s Hillside hospital, September 4, 1991.


Charlie Barnet’s compositions included “Skyliner”, “Southland Shuffle”, “Swing Street Strut”, “The Right Idea”, “The Wrong Idea” withBilly May, “Growlin'”, “Scotch and Soda”, “Midweek Function”, “Oh What You Said (Are We Burnt Up?)”, “I Kinda Like You”, “Tappin’ at the Tappa”, “The Last Jump”, “Knocking at the Famous Door”, “Lazy Bug” with Juan Tizol, “Ogoun Badagris (Voodoo War God)”, and “In a Mizz”, which was recorded by Duke Ellington.

“Skyliner”, arranged by Billy May, was written as the theme music for the late 1940s US Armed Forces Network program “Midnight In Munich”,  broadcast from the AFN station in Munich, Germany, and hosted by Sgt. Ralph Moffat. Thanks to the station’s immensely powerful twin 100 kW transmitters, AFN Munich could be heard as far away as the UK; this, and the popularity of Moffat’s show, evidently helped “Skyliner” and many other contemporary American swing hits to gain wide popularity across Europe and become hits in the UK.  The title (which was originally printed as “Sky Liner”) may be a reference to the practice of American pilots flying into Munich, who used the radio station’s powerful signal to home in on the city.


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