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Les Brown and His Orchestra

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Biography

Les was born on March 14, 1912 and was raised in Tower City, PA, the son of R.W. Brown, a baker and musician. (Quoting Les’ own words) “My father’s love was music, but he was a baker so we could eat.” R.W. played soprano sax in a sax quartet that performed the popular music of the day, the marches of John Phillip Sousa. Since Sousa was known as ‘The March King’, R.W earned the sobriquet, ‘March Prince’. As the son of the March Prince, Les Brown was playing music almost as soon as he could walk. By the age of nine, Les joined his first pro band playing using R. W.’s soprano sax, but was hindered by his lack of proper attire: “The only problem was that I didn’t have any long pants at the time. A guy lived next door to us who was 16 and very short. I borrowed his pants so I didn’t have to play in shorts.”

By 14, Les Brown was already a seasoned professional, and he started what would be the first of many bands; ‘The Royal Serertadore’. Although the sax remained his main interest, Les also studied and mastered the classical clarinet while at Ithaca Conservatory of Music. (Years later, Les said he ended his solo clarinet playing career after listening to Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Jimmy Dorsey, and Woody Herman, and decided that he “wasn’t in their class as a soloist and never would be.”) After Ithaca Conservatory, he enrolled at Duke University and performed with the ‘Blue Devils’ for four years, taking over as leader in his junior year. The final performance of Les, and the Blue Devils, was in 1936 at Budd Lake, NJ, the hometown of Georgia Claire De Wolfe. Two years later, in September of 1938, Claire and Les became husband and wife.

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