One of Harris' first jobs as frontman of a musical group began in 1928, with Carol Lofner, as co-leader of the Lofner-Harris Orchestra.  They were the first group to play the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa, CA, and were such a hit at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco that they were held over there for three years.  In 1931, with Muzzy Marcellino on violin, they made six sides for Victor, such as I Got the Ritz From the One I Love (I Got the Big Go-By), which was sung by Harris.
    Harris led a band under his own name at the glamorous Cocoanut Grove of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles in 1933, and they made four titles on Columbia Records.
    However, when they appeared for an engagement at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City in 1935, its sedate patrons didn't appreciate Harris' gregariousness or the orchestra's swinging sounds.
    Luckily, elsewhere his showmanship won out.

vital stats:
given name   Wonga Philip Harris [ "Wonga" means "swift messenger" in Cherokee ]
birth   June 24, 1904, Linton, IN
death   Aug. 11, 1995, Rancho Mirage, CA, heart failure
father   a clarinetist with circus and other bands
mother   a clothes buyer
education   graduate, Hume Fogg High School, Nashville, TN
first wife   Marcia Ralston, m.Sept. 2, 1927, div.Sept. 1940
son   Phil Harris, Jr., b.1935 [ adopted ]
second wife   Alice Jeane Leppert (aka "Alice Faye," the actress), b.May 5, 1912, m.May 12,
    1941, d.May 9, 1998, stomach cancer
daughter   Alice, b.May 19, 1942
daughter   Phyllis, b.Apr. 22, 1944
military service   Merchant Marines, Dec. 1942-Mar. 1943
hobbies   golf; hunting; fishing; playing Scrabble
membership   Local 6, American Federation of Musicians, San Francisco, CA
residence   on the green at the Thunderbird Country Club, Palm Springs, CA
physical description   6 ft. 1 in. tall

    Between 1937 and 1958, Harris made additional, numerous recordings with his band for the Vocalion, Okeh, ARA, and RCA Victor labels, such as Woodman, Woodman Spare That
Tree; One-Zy, Two-Zy (I Love You-zy); That's What I Like About the South; The Preacher and the Bear; Fun and Fancy Free; Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette); and The Thing.
    Among his musicians in his band were, at various times, Floyd O'Brien, trombone; Joe Huffman, clarinet and tenor saxophone; Frank Remley, guitar; and Leah Ray, vocals.
    He eventually settled back on the West Coast, where work in radio flourished for him.
    In 1936, he joined NBC's "The Jack Benny Show," as conductor and comic foil for Benny's insults (many of them directed at Harris' supposed reputation as a heavy boozer).  The program switched to CBS in 1949, and he remained with Benny until 1952.
    For part of the same time, from 1948 to 1954, Harris starred with his wife, Alice Faye, on their own appealing radio program, over NBC.

Phil Harris - In his Own Words:
    "If it hadn't been for radio . . . I would still be a traveling orchestra leader.  I played one-night stands for
    17 years, except for a few longer engagements.  I slept on buses.  I never even voted, because I had no
    residence.  Radio gave me a chance to settle down, to marry, to establish a home and raise a family."

    "It was all fun, everything.  I say thanks to God every night that I get a kick out of every day."

    "I've never endorsed any brand of booze.  Wouldn't want to slight the others.  They're all just great!"

    "I can't die until the government finds a safe place to bury my liver."

    Harris continued to record as least as late as 1972, when he did an album called "Southern Comfort: The Best of Phil Harris" for Mega Records of Nashville.
    Ever the personality and despite battling heart and kidney problems for years, he continued to occasionally make appearances, whether on stage or at the golf course, until shortly before his death.
Internet Movie Database,
Richard Lamparski, Whatever Became Of ... ?: 9th Series (New York City: Crown
    Publishers, 1985?), pp.68-69.
"Phil Harris, comic, bandleader," [ Riverside, CA ] Press-Enterprise, Aug. 13, 1995, p.B5.
"Phil Harris, pal to Benny, Crosby, dies," Canton [ OH ] Repository, Aug. 13, 1995.
Brian Rust, "Henry Halstead and His Orchestra," in The American Dance Band
    Discography 1917-1942: Volume I Irving Aaronson to Arthur Lange (New Rochelle, NY:
    Arlington House Publishers, 1975), pp.717-718.
---, "Phil Harris," in The American Dance Band Discography 1917-1942: Volume I Irving
    Aaronson to Arthur Lange (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House Publishers, 1975), p763.
George T. Simon, The Big Bands (New York City: The Macmillian Company, 1967), p.497.

    I would like to expand this tribute with, if possible, a new interview of someone who was important to Phil Harris' life or career.  Are you an alumnus of his band, a member of his family, or a collector who is knowledgeable about his accomplishments?  Please contact me via e-mail

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    He had a satisfying entertainment career which lasted some 70 years, and being the leader of a big band was only one of his roles.
    At various times during his life, he was also a drummer (recording Under the Ukelele Tree and If I Were King with violinist Henry Halstead's orchestra on Victor in 1926); a singer of popular, novelty, and country & western songs in a raspy, half-talking manner; a regular on the Jack Benny radio show, in the role of a stereotypical wise-cracking musician; a dramatic film ("Wabash Avenue") and TV actor; even the voice of Baloo the Bear in "The Jungle Book" (1967) and the voice of a hip alley cat in "The AristoCats" (1970), two animated Disney feature films.