Les Brown and the Band of Renown Entertained the Troops

Les Brown
Les Brown and the Band of Renown performed with Bob Hope on radio, stage and TV for almost fifty years. They did 18 USO Tours for American troops around the world, and entertained over three million people. Brown knew how to play great music and entertain those who came to hear his terrific orchestra. That he did this longer than anyone else was a wonderful achievement.

Before the Super Bowls were televised, the Bob Hope Christmas Specials were the highest-rated programs in television history. Tony Bennett was “discovered" by Bob Hope and did his first public performance with Les and the Band.

During the late 1940s, Doris Day went out on her own, as did many other big band singers. It was the now the era of pop vocalists; big bands were losing their popularity. Day's musical career soared, and before long she was making movies and television shows.

In 1949, Bob Hope brought Doris Day and Les Brown back into the fold. Their combined star power was staggering. Hope had the No.1 movie, Pale Face, Les had the No.1 instrumental with “I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm," and Doris Day had the No.1 vocal tune with “It's Magic." They went on a national tour that broke sales records everywhere.

At the onset of the Korean War in 1950, they switched the tour to the military bases that Hope was famous for visiting. The first trip, to a bitter cold Korea, lasted 35 days and was the first of 18 Christmas tours that Brown and Hope would perform on military bases around the world. Brown would often recall the warm enthusiasm of his military audiences, citing their affection for the songs that reminded them of their homes so far away.

Beginning with the Korean War in 1950, Bob Hope and Les Brown and His Band of Renown entertained American troops for a quarter of a century. Anyone who saw these great shows will never forget them.

“They were the greatest audiences in the world," Brown recalled. “To hear anything from back home, for them, was great. The tours were very tiring, but also very exhilarating. And interesting."

The only drawback was leaving his family, something Brown never liked doing, but which was worse at Christmas. He made up for it by being able to stay in town, working much of the year by playing on many different TV shows.

Starting even before World War II, in March of 1941, Bob Hope broadcast his radio show before a live military audience at March Field, an air base just 80 miles to the north of Miramar.

Over the next few years, Hope broadcast his radio comedy show from a variety of U.S. military bases, but in 1943 he took the show to the war. His first tour was to England, Ireland, Sicily and North Africa. He toured the Pacific in 1944-45, becoming known in the media as the “Number One Soldier in Greasepaint" and, to the troops, “G.I. Bob."

The famous overseas USO Christmas shows began in 1948 and continued for 22 years, visiting such far-away places as Panama, Iceland, Greenland, Korea, Okinawa, Guam, Morocco, Spain, the Philippines and, of course, Vietnam. Hope visited Vietnam for nine consecutive years, 1964 through 1972.

From 1973 to 1982, Hope continued the Christmas tours at Stateside bases and military hospitals.

Bob Hope went back overseas in 1983 (Beirut), 1987 (Far East and Persian Gulf), in May 1990 to England, Germany and Russia, and in 1990 to Saudi Arabia.

Hope's 700 trips covered more than 10 million air miles to entertain more than 10 million troops.

In 1991, Bob Hope and Jimmy Stewart co-hosted the largest parade in Hollywood to welcome home the service men and women of Desert Storm. In honor of his contributions, the USO headquarters in Hollywood is named for him, as is the chapel at the Veterans Cemetery in Los Angeles.

He became America's first and only honorary veteran by act of Congress, and is an honorary brigadier general in the Marine Corps.

Bob Hope brought Ann-Margret, Rosey Grier, Miss World Penelope Plummer, The Golddiggers, Linda Bennett, Les Brown and his Band of Renown, Roger Smith and others to visit troops in Japan, Korea, Okinawa, Thailand, Guam and (above) Vietnam.

Upon receiving the honorary veteran award, Hope said, “I've been given many awards in my lifetime— but to be numbered among the men and women I admire most is the greatest honor I have ever received."

The American Federation of Musicians imposed a recording ban beginning July 31, 1942 that lasted two years. The union only allowed bands to record V-discs for our troops during this period. Everyone resented the recording ban, and finally the powerful head of the AFM, James C. Petrillo, was persuaded to drop it.

As soon as the recording ban was lifted in 1944, Brown recorded a new song with Doris Day. It captured a great sentiment throughout the country and became the band's biggest hit, staying at the top of Your Hit Parade for 16 weeks and remaining on it for many months.

The song was Sentimental Journey, a favorite of servicemen longing to return home and of their sweethearts and loved ones longing to see them again.

Two years after Sentimental Journey soared to the top of Your Hit Parade, my mother and I and two of her sisters rode the Santa Fe's El Capitan from Chicago to Los Angeles to visit another sister and her family in Santa Barbara. We sang this beautiful song all summer long in anticipation of our trip. Whenever I hear Sentimental Journey, it opens a scrapbook of wonderful memories for me.

Sentimental Journey is one of the most famous and important songs of the entire Swing Era—and one of my all-time favorites.

One of Brown's instrumental hits in 1944 was a variation on the traditional song “Little Brown Jug" that had been such a big hit for Glenn Miller in 1939. This recording illustrates what a great, modern sound Brown had created for his band. He called the song “Brown's Little Jug."

As you listen to a few sides, you can tell this band really stood apart from the rest. You're listening to a band with deep roots in the Swing Era that was moving along its very own track to the future. And what a future it would be! Les Brown and His Band of Renown always sounded fresh, exciting, and contemporary.

In February 1945, Les Brown and His Band of Renown released “Leap Frog," which became so popular that Brown made it the band's theme song.

In September 1946, they recorded “I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm." The song was popular with Brown's audiences, but a couple of executives at Columbia Records didn't like it and refused to release it. As time passed by, many Les Brown fans wrote Columbia to ask for a recording of it. Columbia's execs forgot the song had been recorded. In 1949, when Columbia finally asked Brown to record the song, he told them it was lying in their vault. Columbia found the master and issued “I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," which became another blockbuster for Les Brown.

“I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm," is another of my favorites. It evokes memories of cold and snowy winter evenings in our home in Berwyn, just west of Chicago, during the 1940s and 1950s. Living in California for almost two decades now, I tend to forget the warmth of the open hearth when the temperature outside is close to zero and three feet of snow falls from the sky. Families were very close in those days. We always spent Thanksgiving Day, Christmas, and New Year's Day together, no matter what the weather was like outside. Those wonderful days long ago have remained in my heart all these years, and the love I felt back then still keeps me warm.

Brown landed his own local TV show in Los Angeles called Bandstand Review. He did the Hope shows, The Steve Allen Show for two years, and performed on the variety show, The Hollywood Palace. And in 1961, he started what became eight years of performing on The Dean Martin Show. “I was working all the time," he said. “I was young and dumb. And I had fun."

In April 1996, the Guinness Book of World Records awarded Les Brown with the distinction of being the leader of the longest-lasting musical organization in the history of pop music.

Les Brown and His Band of Renown toured tirelessly from the 1960s to just five months before Brown's death from lung cancer on Jan. 4, 2001. “The world has lost a great musician," mourned Hope in a public statement, “I have lost my music man, my sideman, my straight man, and a special friend." Brown was 88.

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