Les Brown and The Band of Renown

Years ago I had the opportunity to spend a week in Los Angeles when my mother’s work took her there. Having never been in southern California before, I went along to do some touring. While most visitors would have been enjoying the beaches or visiting the sights around Hollywood, I was on a different schedule. Extra time was spent exploring the notable people buried in the region.

But trying to see every memorial I wanted would have been impossible, but one cemetery I knew I could not ignore on my vacation was Westwood Village Memorial Park, which is hidden among towering buildings in the Westwood section of Los Angeles. The small cemetery is the resting place of so many notable people that a full day could be spent on the two and a half acres. Note: other burials here include Don Knotts and Natalie Wood.

I was looking at a map I had printed out when one of the employees approached and and asked if I needed help. I explained who I was here to visit and she pointed out where I needed to go. Walking through the Garden of Serenity, I stopped at the wall niche that holds the remains of one of Pennsylvania’s native sons – Les Brown.

Lester “Les” Raymond Brown was born March 14, 1912, in Reinerton a small community in Schuylkill County, the son of Ray and Hattie Brown.

In 1926, Les enrolled in the Conway Military Band School, followed by the New York Military Academy in 1929. During this time he learned to master the clarinet and alto saxophone. After graduating in 1932, he attended Duke University. Here he formed a group called Les Brown and his Blue Devils, which toured the east coast in 1936. After taking a year off from touring, Les returned with The Band of Renown in 1938. In 1941, the band had success with “Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio” sung by Betty Bonney.

In 1942, Les Brown and The Band of Renown made their first movie appearance in Seven Days’ Leave which featured Lucille Ball. They would not make another film appearance until 1963’s The Nutty Professor featuring Jerry Lewis.

As World War Two was coming to an end, Les Brown would team with a new female lead singer – Doris Day. The song “Sentimental Journey” was popular with those returning from the war and the band had their biggest hit.

Despite the success of “Sentimental Journey,” the band spilt in 1946, but reformed the following year to filfill a contract he was not able to get out of. The same year he was hired as the house band for Bob Hope’s weekly radio show. Les Brown and The Band of Renown became the orchestra for The Doris Day Show from 1952 to 1953 and later on they were the house band for The Steve Allen Show and The Dean Martin Show. The connection with Bob Hope never waned as the band would appear in many of his USO tours and television specials.

The band would continue touring for more than fifty years, playing under Brown’s direction until his death on January 4, 2001; his ashes were interred at the Westwood Village Memorial Park. His son. Les Brown, Jr, would take over leading The Band of Renown. The Pennsylvania Historical Commission has placed a familiar historical marker in Reinertown at the junction of Route 209 and Les Brown Lane.

I finished paying my respects to one of Pennsylvania’s sons before leaving the cemetery where he rests hidden among the towering buildings of Los Angeles.

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