One of the original purveyors of America's big band era, Les Brown was a tireless performer, even recognized as the leader of the longest-running musical organizations in pop music history in the Guinness Book of World Records. Brown often claimed that his inspirational fathers first love was music, though he became a baker so his family could eat.
Born in March 14, 1912 and raised in Tower City, PA, young Brown was playing music almost as soon as he could walk. Taught music by his father, Brown took an early shine to the smooth sounds of the soprano sax, "like fleas to a dog." Eager to escape the bake shop where he worked early on, Brown accepted his father's offer to forego a high-school education in order to pursue his love of music at the first-rate Ithaca Conservatory of Music. There Brown refined his skills on the sax, mastered the clarinet, and purchased a second-hand bassoon in order to fill the gap in his school's orchestra and receive a full scholarship. Brown's path to eventual fame was quickly solidified in his multiple talents and early experiments with his own bands.
It was his eventual encounter with trumpet master Bob Alexy, however, that would have a profound and lasting effect on Brown's career, wrangling him a scholarship to the New York Military Academy based on the young protégé's skills. Named class valedictorian, Brown turned down a later offer to attend West Point, deciding instead to focus his attention on his love of music. Touring with the Rainbow Men soon after his stint at New York Military Academy, Brown was spotted by the notorious Duke University Blue Devils, who eagerly invited Brown to join the band. Brown enrolled at Duke and spent four years with the Blue Devils, gaining popularity and eventually taking over as band leader. It was at his final performance with the Blue Devils that Brown met his future wife, Georgia Claire Dewolfe.
Though Les Brown and His Band of Renown was formed in 1936, it was in 1944 that Brown stumbled across the tune that would not only define Les Brown and His Band of Renown, but the end of the World War II era as well. With soothing vocals courtesy of Doris Day, "Sentimental Journey was one of those strange and beautiful cosmic coincidences, striking a common chord with American audiences, remaining the number one song in the country for four months, and bringing fame to all involved. "The happiest days of my life were the days I was traveling with Les and his band," commented Day.
It was soon after in 1947 that Brown would make the aquaintence of future friend and collaborator Bob Hope. Working together in radio and television, the Brown/Hope collaboration led to another of Brown's hits with Irving Berlin's "Love To Keep Me Warm". In 1950, Brown joined Hope, accompanied by Day, in the first of 18 Christmas tours to entertain American troops on military bases around the world. Brown would often recall the warm enthusiasm of his military audiences, citing their affection for the songs that reminded them of the homes that they were so distanced from. Though he joked that bands playing to these audiences didn't even have to be good if they could just play a familiar tune, of course Hope, accompanied by Les Brown and his Band of Renown were good, bringing happiness, if only as a temporary distraction, to troops who couldn't make it home for the holidays.
Later becoming involved with the NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences) Brown became a key figure in the efforts to enable the Academy to broadcast the Grammy Awards for the first time. NBC's seemingly impossible demands of landing Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, or Bing Crosby for the telecast left Brown doubting that the event would ever happen. Inviting all three stars on a glimmer of hope, all three accepted and the first televised Grammy Awards' ceremony was successful. Les Brown and His Band of Renown toured tirelessly from the '60s to just five months before Brown's death from lung cancer on January 4, 2000. "The world has lost a great musician," mourned Hope in a public statement, "I have lost my music man, my sideman, my straight man, and a special friend." Brown was 88.