Russ Morgan was a big band orchestra leader and musical arranger in the United States during the 1930s and 1940s.
Born into a Welsh family in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Morgan was encouraged to express himself musically from the age of seven. His father, a coal-mine foreman, was a former musician who played drums in a local band in his spare time. Morgan’s mother had been a pianist in a vaudeville act. Morgan began to study piano and also went to work in the mines to earn money to help support his family and pay for his lessons.
At fourteen, Morgan earned extra money as a pianist in a theater in Scranton. He also purchased a trombone and learned to play it. In 1921, he played trombone with a local band, the Scranton Sirens, which became popular in Pennsylvania during the 1920s. Several of its members later became famous, including Jimmy Dorsey on sax and clarinet, Billy Lustig on violin and Tommy Dorsey on trombone. In 1922, Morgan decided to go to New York. Three years later, at the age of twenty-one, he did arrangements for both John Philip Sousa and Victor Herbert. He then joined Paul Specht’s orchestra and toured throughout Europe with the orchestra. Colleagues of Morgan in Specht’s orchestra included Arthur Schutt, Don Lindley, Chauncey Morehouse, Orville Knapp, Paul Whiteman, Charlie Spivak and Artie Shaw.