Les Brown Biography

Lester Raymond Brown, 14 March 1912, Reinerton, Pennsylvania, USA, d. 4 January 2001, Los Angeles, California, USA. By 1932, when he entered Duke University at Durham, North Carolina, Brown had already attended Ithaca College and the New York Military Academy and had studied harmony, arranging and composing, as well as becoming proficient on soprano saxophone, clarinet and bassoon. At Duke in 1935, he joined the university’s dance band, the Duke Blue Devils, became its leader and built a substantial local reputation and recorded some sides for Decca Records. In 1937 he moved to New York where he worked as an arranger for Jimmy Dorsey and Isham Jones. In 1938 he formed his own band for an engagement at the Hotel Edison on Broadway and signed a recording contract with Bluebird Records. By 1940 the band was playing the Arcadia Ballroom and deputizing for Charlie Barnet at the Lincoln Hotel. During this spell, Brown lured Doris Day away from the Bob Crosby band to work for his.

Although the draft damaged many bands, Brown managed to find replacements and his popularity gained strength even when Day left. In 1943 he persuaded the singer to rejoin and this time they had a massive hit with ‘Sentimental Journey’. The band’s style remained rooted in easy swinging dance music, with deceptively simple arrangements by Frank Comstock and Skippy Martin (whose chart for ‘I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm’ was another hit). Nevertheless, at the end of 1946 Brown felt that he had not achieved the measure of success he wanted, and so folded his Band Of Renown - but he still had a contract (which he had temporarily forgotten) to play the Hollywood Palladium in March 1947. He re-formed the band and was promptly hired as resident orchestra for Bob Hope’s weekly radio show. Brown remained with the show when it transferred to television, and also toured the world on the comedian’s many trips to entertain US troops who were stationed overseas. A 1949 concert tour with Hope and Day broke all sales records.

During subsequent decades Les Brown and his Band Of Renown remained popular on television and in public appearances; 1987 saw a succession of concerts celebrating his 50 years as a band leader. In 1996 he was officially named as the leader of the longest playing musical organisation in the history of popular music and entered the Guinness Book Of World Records. He was also the first president of the Los Angeles chapter of NARAS (the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences), in which capacity he helped televise the Grammy Awards. Brown died of lung cancer in January 2001.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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