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 bandleader. 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.