ICQ 2001/No. 1
Class Notes -- Profiles

Table of Contents

Coda for Two Music Giants

Les Brown '29 and Craig McHenry '30 were roommates and bandmates at Ithaca. They remained lifelong friends; Brown died in January just days before McHenry.

The boys in the band
The boys in the band: McHenry and Brown (from left) on tour in 1929 with Clarence Andrews '29, Walter Beeler '28, and Paul Lester '29.

Few people can claim 75 years of association with anything. But Craig McHenry '30, M.M. '46, who passed away on January 15 at the age of 92, spent three-quarters of a century involved with Ithaca College. In 1926 McHenry came as a student to the Ithaca Conservatory of Music; he was one of the last links to the College's founder, W. Grant Egbert (1867-1928).

A fine cornet player, McHenry studied with Ernest Williams of the Philadelphia Orchestra before coming to Ithaca. He and his friend and roommate Les Brown '29 performed with the famed Patrick Conway Band while still undergraduates. McHenry was an equally talented trumpet player, playing first trumpet with the Conservatory Orchestra and with the Cornell Collegians, a jazz band. After graduating in 1930, McHenry went on to receive his doctoral degree from Columbia University. In 1935 he joined the Ithaca College faculty, teaching trumpet, music education, and theory. For 20 years he conducted the Ithaca College Orchestra, instituting the annual concerto program and serving as musical director of numerous musicals and operettas during that time.

McHenry's philosophy of education for musicians stressed not only rigorous training in musicianship, but a well-balanced liberal arts grounding as well. In 1957, when he was appointed dean of the School of Music, he began a revitalization of the curriculum and was actively involved in planning the new South Hill campus and its facilities. Under his leadership the school hosted the first annual conference of the New York State School Music Association; increased the number and variety of music courses for non-music students; extended practice teaching services in Ithaca-area elementary and high schools; began a series of guest-artist programs; inaugurated the Commencement-eve concert; and promoted faculty ensembles.

During his career McHenry also taught summer school at various public schools, music camps, and colleges and adjudicated numerous state and national music festivals. He directed music tours in Europe, served on the executive board of NYSSMA, was an active member of national evaluating committees, and contributed many articles to professional journals.

Although he retired from Ithaca College in 1973, McHenry never really left. He initiated a graduate division in music at the IC London Center in 1974 and returned to serve as its dean for the following school year. He was given the Distinguished Alumni Award in 1975 and was named professor emeritus of music in 1976; a scholarship was established in his honor that same year. In 1979 the College bestowed on him an honorary doctor of fine arts degree. He and his wife, Fran Alexander McHenry '34, were generous donors, fund-raisers, and frequent visitors to campus over the years, and in 1999 they moved into neighboring Longview.

During Reunion 1998 his friends and fans at Ithaca College threw a surprise 90th birthday party for McHenry. Among the many illustrious music alumni who performed at a special concert in his honor were Marti George Rideout '70, Patrice Pickering '73, James Wallenberg '74, and GlennGuiles '75. The audience joined Pickering and assistant professor of music Diane Birr in singing Poem for Dr. McHenry by Deborah Erftenbeck '71 to the tune of High above Cayuga's Waters. McHenry was presented with a book of more than 200 letters, reminiscences, mementos, and photographs from alumni and former faculty members who had worked with him. "He was very well loved," says music professor Mary Arlin, who studied at IC while McHenry was dean and considered him not only a great mentor but a dear friend. "And rightly so --- he did so much for this College. And he was a great educator, a great talent, and a truly fine human being."

Brown in HollywoodLes Brown '29, named in 1996 by the Guinness Book of World Records the leader of the longest-lasting musical organization in pop music history, passed away on January 4, less than two weeks before his college friend. He was 88. The son of a soprano saxophone-playing baker who conducted his town's concert band, Brown began as a cornet player before switching to soprano sax and learning bassoon and clarinet. At Ithaca, where he and McHenry were roommates and Phi Mu Alpha fraternity brothers, he was especially interested in symphonic music. Soon after graduating, he became enthralled with big band music and began to write music. In 1932 he decided to go to Duke University because of its well-known college swing band. He soon became the leader of that band; he toured with the Blue Devils, playing one-night jobs, for more than a year.

In the mid-1930s Brown moved to New York City, where he began writing arrangements for big bands run by Jimmy Dorsey, Isham Jones, and Larry Clinton. Soon he started his own orchestra --- the one that would become one of the biggest of the big bands of the swing era and bring him worldwide acclaim. Doris Day came on as vocalist, and after a few years the group became known as Les Brown and His Band of Renown.

The Band of Renown was playing dozens of dates a year up until a few months ago. Its first major hit record, Sentimental Journey with Doris Day, which Brown cowrote, remained on the hit parade for 16 weeks and was number one for 5 weeks. It's still recognized as a World War II classic. Many of Brown's other hits, including I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm, Midnight Sun, and Leap Frog, were instrumentals. The band also had a hit with Joltin' Joe DiMaggio in 1941.

Brown recorded with Bing Crosby, among other musical stars. He was a frequent guest on Dean Martin's television show in the 1960s and '70s. He had a long friendship and association with Bob Hope that lasted more than 40 years and included some 800 shows (and 7 visits to Vietnam during the war years). He performed for the presidential inaugurations of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and in 1984 he played at the summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Brown guest conducted numerous orchestras, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Denver Symphony, and the United States Air Force Band --- and he led the music at the welcoming ceremony for the American hostages released by Iran in 1981.

In 1978 Ithaca College conferred on Brown an honorary doctor of music degree. In 1994 the alumni association honored him with its Lifetime Achievement Award. He has been back to visit campus, guest conduct-ing the Ithaca College Orchestra for the 1978 and 1993 Commencement eve concerts. In 1978 he established the Les Brown Endowed Scholarship Fund; it provides assistance to two music students each year. He contributed to it every year since. "Les Brown was one of our most illustrious alumni," says vice president for institutional advancement Shelley Semmler. "It's hard to imagine the music scene without him. He is truly an American institution. He also had an abiding affection for the College and was happy to help students via his scholarship fund. He will be missed."

To contribute to or get more information about the memorial scholar- ship fund that has been established in Craig McHenry's honor or to the fund in honor of Les Brown, please contact Melanie Weymer, director of special programs, Office of Development, Ithaca College, 236 Alumni Hall, Ithaca NY 14850; 607-274-1219; mweymer@ithaca.edu.

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