"Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy", a wartime radio song about a virtuoso trumpet player, was a major hit for the Andrews Sisters and an iconic World War II tune. This song can be considered an early jump blues recording. The song is ranked #6 on Songs of the Century.
The song was written by Don Raye and Hughie Prince, and was recorded at Decca's Hollywood studios on January 2, 1941, nearly a year before the United States entered World War II but after the start of a peacetime draft to expand the armed forces in anticipation of American involvement. The flipside was "Bounce Me Brother With a Solid Four". The Andrews Sisters introduced the song in the 1941 Abbott and Costello film Buck Privates, which was in production when they made the record. "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song.
It is closely based on an earlier Raye-Prince hit, "Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar," which is about a virtuoso boogie-woogie piano player.
According to the lyrics of the song, a renowned Illinois street musician is drafted into the U.S. Army during the Wartime Draft imposed by the Roosevelt Administration. In addition to being famous, the bugler was the "top man at his craft," but the Army had little use for his talents and he was reduced to blowing the wake up call (Reveille) in the morning. This caused the musician to become dejected: "It really brought him down, because he couldn't jam." The commanding officer took note of the blues man's blues and went out and conscripted more musicians to assemble a band to keep the bugler company. Thereafter, the bugler found his stride, infusing the military marches with his inimitable street flair: "He blows it eight to the bar - in boogie rhythm." Even his morning calls attain some additional flavor: "And now the company jumps when he plays reveille." But, the bugler is not only empowered, he is possibly spoiled, because thereafter, "He can't blow a note if the bass and guitar/Isn't with him."
In an interview broadcast July 3, 2006 on CNN, World War II veteran Bill Arter said he often played in jam sessions with the black unit in Company C, who gave him the nickname Bugle Boy from Company B. Arter was a medic who landed during D-day. There is no evidence that he was the inspiration for the song; however, since it was written before the U.S. entered the war he may have been dubbed the Bugle Boy from Company B in reference to the song, not the other way around.
An article published in Stars & Stripes during WWII credits Clarence Zylman  of Muskegon, MI with being the original Boogie Woogie Bugler. The lyrics in the song seem to agree with several aspects of Clarences' life. Drafted at age 38, Clarence had been performing for 20 years, beginning with radio stations in Chicago and moving on to several big bands. He brought his playing style to England where he was a company bugler, eventually being transferred to an army band. Articles in The Billboard and the Cleveland Plains Dealer support this, including the fact that Clarence was sent to teach other buglers his techniques.
A better claim to that title (though he seldom mentioned it) would be to Harry L. Gish, Jr (1922-2005). After a meteoric rise in the mid 1930's, based out of the Ritz Hotel in Paducah, KY. At age 17 he ventured to NYC where he appeared (studio only) with the Will Bradley "All Star Orchestra" with highly regarded solos on the Raye-Prince songs "Celery Stalks at Midnight", "Scrub Me Mama With A Boogie Beat" and "The Boogilly Woogilly Piggie". He also performed with the Olsen & Johnson (of Hellzapoppin' fame) ban, Ray Anthony and was popular in the Plattsburgh, NY (Lake Placid) area before returning to Decca Records in Chicago. He also had a "summer replacement" radio show there for CBS from WBBM radio.
Gish was known for a dry sense of humor and was known for pulling outrageous pranks with a straight face. He was also a publicist's dream in that his mother was named Lillian, a pleasant farm woman about 6 years younger than the actress (in reality his great-great-great-great-grandfather was the actress' great-great-grandfather's older brother). Quotes like "We can't confirm the rumor that he is the actress' son" were common. In composing the song, Raye reportedly commented "What if they drafted "that guy"?".
In the 1980s and 1990's he honored many requests to play at services for many veterans' funerals and in 1995, in the character of The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (still able to fit in his WWII uniform: he enlisted in the Army Air Corps) he opened the combined service units (American Legion, VFW and others) celebration of the 50th anniversary of the end of WWII in Little Rock where he opened with Reveille and closed the ceremony with Taps.
In 1973, Bette Midler recorded her version of the song, a close copy of the original, which peaked at #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, and introduced it to a new generation of pop music fans. The track was also a #1 single on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart.
In 2007, R&B/Gospel group Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town recorded their own version of a song on their album Jerry Lawson Talk of the Town
On their 2008 Live in Concert DVD, the von Trapp Children sang their version of this song.