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A Sentimental Farewell to Les Brown

We would be horribly remiss if we did not take a moment to note the passing of Duke alum, Les Brown '36, one of America's greatest Big Band leaders. Brown, whose Band of Renown traveled the country for decades, is perhaps best known for the hit, Sentimental Journey, sung in timeless fashion by Doris Day, whom Brown discovered. Indeed, the Guinness Book of Records cited "Les Brown and His Band of Renown" as being the longest running organized group in popular music history.

When Brown was college age, Duke University already had a solid reputation for its Big Band music, especially the namesake band, the "Duke Blue Devils." Brown was invited to enroll at Duke, where he could get free room and board by playing a concert each night at the student union. Not only did he play on campus, he ended up taking the band on the road until the parents of the bandmembers pleaded with them to return to school. (As an aside, band leader Glenn Miller was so impressed by the Duke Blue Devils that he dedicated his hit In the Mood to them.)

From Duke, Brown went on to travel the country and the world, often entertaining the troops overseas. Even at age 88, he continued to be active in music during the past year. We had the opportunity to speak to Les (and to dance to his music) exactly 16 years ago this month at a gala in Washington, DC. He spoke with enthusiasm and affection of his years at Duke and was deeply indebted to the school for giving him his start. Although we will miss Les, we will always have his music to cherish as will generations to come.