Clinton was born in Brooklyn, New York. He became a versatile musician, playing trumpet, trombone, and clarinet. While in his twenties, he became a prolific arranger for dance orchestras; bandleaders Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Glen Gray, Louis Armstrong, and Bunny Berigan all used Larry Clinton charts.
His first stint as a bandleader was from 1937 to 1941, and he recorded a string of hits for Victor Records. The Clinton band's repertoire was split between pop tunes of the day ("I Double Dare You," "Summer Souvenirs," etc.), ambitious instrumentals penned by Clinton (the most popular, "A Study in Brown," begat four sequels in different "colors"), and swing adaptations of classical compositions. This last category swept the industry, and orchestras everywhere were "swinging the classics" by adding pop lyrics to melodies by Debussy and Tchaikovsky. His version of Debussy’s "Reverie", with vocalist Bea Wain, was particularly popular. Entitled "My Reverie", his version peaked at #1 on Billboard's Record Buying Guide in 1938.
Clinton's band was predominantly a recording group that also played college proms and hotel ballrooms. On the strength of Clinton's record hit "The Dipsy Doodle," Vitaphone and Paramount Pictures signed the band to star in three 10-minute theatrical films. All were filmed in New York.
In 1941 Clinton and his band appeared in six short musical films, designed for then-popular "movie jukeboxes." (The films were ultimately released as Soundies in 1943.) This was one of his last jobs as a bandleader; he quit the music business upon the outbreak of World War II, and joined the United States Army Air Forces. A rated pilot, he rose to the rank of captain, was stationed with the Air Transport Command in Calcutta and China during Hump airlift, and was a flight instructor with the 1343rd Base Unit.
He resumed his musical career and enjoyed further success as a bandleader from 1948 to 1950. He remained active in the music business – often leading a studio band for pop singers like Barry Frank – until 1961. He died in 1985 in Tucson, Arizona, at the age of 75.
- Larry Clinton “True Confession” by Christopher Popa, accessed 31 December 2010