Historical Markers
Les Brown [Show Business] Historical Marker
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Les Brown [Show Business]

Poconos / Endless Mountains


Marker Location:
1944 E Grand Ave., Reinerton

Dedication Date:
March 14, 2006

Behind the Marker

Les Brown, in the background, leading his band during a White House gala for returned American POWs from Vietnam, May 25, 1973.
Les Brown, in the background, leading his band during a White House gala for...
For some four decades, Bob Hope, the most peripatetic of entertainers, boasted he never left home without Les Brown. Lucky for Hope, then, that the only excuse Brown's father would accept from his young son for avoiding work in the family bakery was Les's music lessons. Otherwise, Les Brown might have spent his life sweating over a pastry oven instead of cooking with his celebrated band.

For sixty years, Les Brown and His Band of Renown were American institutions, equally at home playing for proms or presidents, and from the late 1940s on, touring with Hope on his Christmas jaunts around the globe to entertain American service men and women.

Image of the band sitting in chairs and Les Brown standing at a microphone. Front row, l to r:  Herb Muse (sax & vocalist), Joe Gardrou (alto sax), Les Brown (standing), Dutch McMillan(tenor sax), Gus Brannou (tenor sax), Coon Plyler (piano).  Back row, l to r:  Walt Moffet (trombone), Bob Thorn (trumpet), Jack Atkins (trumpet), unknown (trumpet), Don Kramer (drums), Tom Herb (tuba)
Les Brown with his Duke Blue Devils dance band, circa 1935.
To be fair to Les's father, Reinerton's baker was thrilled that his son preferred the cornet and saxophone to corn muffins and soufflés. Raymond Brown was a musician at heart, an accomplished saxophonist with great hopes that his three sons would not only grow to love music the way he did, but also become professional musicians. On that score, he didn't have much to worry about with Les.

Raymond Brown made sure his three sons grew up around music, but none so fully immersed himself in it as Les, born Lester Raymond Brown on March 14, 1912. In the days before every home had a record player, the only way small communities heard music was live, and the only way to assure live music on a regular basis was to form a town band. And in Reinerton, about forty miles northeast of Harrisburg in Pennsylvania's coal country, Raymond was its leader. On summer nights, the town, mostly hardscrabble mining families, would gather in the park around the bandstand to hear their neighbors regale them with favorites from John Phillip Sousa, Victor Herbert, and perhaps markerGeorge Rosenkrans. Young Les wanted to regale them, too.
Joltin' Joe DiMaggio, New York Yankee slugger (left), gets an earful of Les Brown's saxophone at Liederkranz Hall New York City during a recording session of Brown's Orcherstra.
Les Brown with New York Yankee slugger Joe DiMaggio, August 17, 1941.

He began studying the cornet, and soon switched to the soprano sax his father played; later, he'd add the clarinet and bassoon, too. At nine, he played his first gig, at a school dance, and by sixteen, his father was so convinced of his son's potential, that he sent Les off to the Patrick Conway Military Band School in Ithaca, N.Y., to study theory, harmony, counterpoint, and the classics. Two years later, Les entered the New York Military Academy on a full scholarship, hoping to use the academy as a stepping stone toward a saxophonist's seat in the U.S. Marine band that Sousa had raised to international prominence.

For a year or so, Brown kept in step with the program. He even wrote march music for the academy band. But when he began tapping his toes to the hip, new swinging sounds of Big Band leaders Paul Whiteman and Bix Beiderbecke, his education marched to a different drummer - to Duke University in North Carolina, home of the Blue Devils swing band, the hottest college combo in the country. Brown's enrollment only raised its temperature: for two years, he blew sax and wrote arrangements, then stepped front and center to lead it from 1935-1936. Indeed, he led it all the way to New York, via a series of celebrated one-night stands up the East Coast, in 1937.

Portrait of Doris Day and Les Brown, Aquarium, New York, N.Y., ca. July 1946
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Doris Day and Les Brown, New York, NY, July, 1946.
After the tour, Brown stayed in New York, arranging scores for Jimmy Dorsey, Larry Clinton, Red Nichols, and other top bandleaders. By 1938, Victor Records was backing him as front man for a twelve-piece combo, based in the ballroom of the Edison Hotel near Broadway, which would eventually gel into the institution he would lead for the rest of his life. When a radio announcer mistakenly introduced the prosaically named Les Brown's Orchestra as Les Brown and His Band of Renown, the name stuck.

In 1941, the band, which now included Brown's younger brother Clyde - better known as Stumpy - on trombone and keeping the books, cut its first hit record, "Joltin' Joe DiMaggio," a novelty song marking the Yankee outfielder's 56-game hitting streak. Four years later, magic happened when Brown co-wrote a tune he called "Sentimental Journey."
Image of the boys walking down a street.
Les Brown and his Band of Renown

The sweet, yearning voice of the band's young singer, Doris Day, elevated the song into a timeless, dreamy anthem of soldiers coming home from World War II. The record was a sensation. It sold well over a million copies - it has since been covered countless times - and spent five weeks at No. 1 on the radio Hit Parade. Brown followed it the next year with another smash - and enduring standard - "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm."

In 1947, Brown teamed up with Bob Hope. For the next forty years, Brown was the comedian's music director on radio, television, and eighteen overseas tours for the USO. He also led TV bands for Steve Allen and Dean Martin.

But what he most loved was playing the music that lifted folks, young and old, out of their seats and onto the dance floor. He lifted them on dozens of recordings - at inaugural festivities for Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, a gala hosted by Frank Sinatra for England's Queen Elizabeth, other countless public ballrooms and private parties, and, finally, at the age of eighty-eight, for the student body at California's Citrus Community College, less than three months before his death on Jan. 6, 2001.
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