Bandleader Phil Harris is probably best remembered today for his association with Jack Benny and his marriage to Alice Faye. Harris never had any big success in the music industry in the way that Benny Goodman or Glenn Miller did, but he had his niche. Though he recorded few hits in his day he still managed to etch his name prominently into the musical history books.
As a youngster Harris played drums and did sound effects in local silent movie theaters. During the 1920s he played drums in the orchestras of Francis Craig and Henry Halstead. In the late 1920s he and pianist Carol Lofner (sometimes spelled ''Laughner'') formed an orchestra of their own. The Lofner-Harris Orchestra enjoyed a long stay at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. Harris played drums and sang, sitting up front center stage instead of behind the orchestra. Muzzy Marcellino was violinist.
In 1932 the band left the St. Francis and began to tour. Shortly into the tour Lofner and Harris dissolved their partnership and Harris, who was always the main attraction of the band anyway, took over sole leadership. Harris moved the orchestra to Los Angeles, where they were headquartered at the Cocoanut Grove during the mid-1930s. They starred in several Hollywood shorts and found steady work on radio. Leah Ray was vocalist in the mid-1930s. During the early 1940s, Ruth Robin sang.
In 1936 Harris replaced Don Bestor as Jack Benny's musical director, working on Benny's radio program and films. Harris became a popular member of the radio show, earning himself a reputation as a good comedian. In 1941 Harris married actress Alice Faye. The couple went on to host the Fitch Bandwagon radio series from 1946 to 1948 and then their own radio program, The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show, from 1948 to 1954.
Harris' best known musical hit was ''That's What I Like About the South.'' In 1950 he recorded, sans orchestra, a hit novelty song called ''The Thing'' for RCA. Harris appeared quite often on television up through the 1970s. He was also the voice of Baloo the Bear in the classic Walt Disney animated film The Jungle Book and provided voice for several other Disney films as well. Phil Harris passed away in 1995.