Trumpeter Randy Brooks played with Ruby Newman’s orchestra before joining Hal Kemp in mid-1939. He remained with Kemp’s band after Kemp died in an automobile accident in December 1940, though efforts to keep the orchestra going under another leader failed, and it soon broke up. When Art Jarrett secured the right to use Kemp’s book and music in mid-1941, Brooks, along with about half of Kemp’s former musicians, became a member of the new band.
Brooks later worked in Claude Thornhill’s orchestra before joining former Kemp bandmate Bob Allen’s new band in mid-1942, where he served as musical director and helped propel the band into the public’s eye. Brooks left Allen in May 1943 for Les Brown’s orchestra and in December worked out a deal with Brown to finance his own band at the end of the following year.
Brooks exited from Brown in November 1944 and began rehearsals with his new orchestra the next month. The band made its debut the week of February 9, 1945, at the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C., scheduled in to replace Billy Rogers’ orchestra, which had just broken up. Brooks’ band attracted little fanfare at the beginning. Critics complained about their lack of consistency, blowing hard on one song and playing so softly on the next that they could hardly be heard. Many of the musicians were, as Billboard magazine called them, “teen-age tooters” and not highly experienced. The band signed with Decca in May 1945.
Brooks’ orchestra improved from its early start but never really managed to find itself among the top circle of bands in the late 1940s, despite some good arrangements and original tunes by John Benson Brooks, Randy’s brother. Lack of consistency continued to plague their sound. Even after Brooks trimmed the line-up in early 1947, cutting down by five musicians, critics still often complained that the brass section blew too hard.
Billboard’s 1946 college poll ranked Brooks as the 4th Most Promising Newer Orchestra of the year, though well behind Stan Kenton and Tex Beneke, who dominated the poll. Brooks placed 3rd in the same category in 1948, far behind top-ranked Elliot Lawrence. Brooks earned 6th place for both best swing band and best sweet band in Down Beat magazine’s 1946 poll.
The band went through a dizzying slew of vocalists in a very short time, perhaps because, as noted by one reviewer, they were given little to do. Loretta Vale and Vince Manning were vocalists in May 1945. Dottie Reid and Terry Parks replaced them in June. Neither lasted a month. Reid quickly left for Benny Goodman, and Bob Anthony replaced Parks. Anthony was then very quickly replaced by Billy Usher, who appeared with the band in its first and only musical short for Columbia and recorded on its first sets. Decca brought in Marion Hutton for the first recording session, hoping the combination would spark sales. The band also recorded with Ella Fitzgerald in 1945.
Margie Wood briefly sang in July 1945. Fran Warren joined as singer in August 1945, leaving Brooks in October for Charlie Barnet. Lillian Lane replaced her, leaving around the first of 1946 for Tex Beneke’s band. She was replaced by Pat Cameron, who was Usher’s wife. Usher and Cameron were out of Brooks’ band by March, replaced by Harry Prime and Beverly Byrne, the sister of Gene Krupa vocalist Buddy Stewart. Kay Allen was vocalist in August 1946 through at least October, and Aileen Stanley Jr. was female chirp in May 1947. Prime stayed through at least mid-1947. Male vocalists in late 1947 include Gil Lewis and Joe Tela.
Though he kept female singers for live shows, Brooks used only Usher and Prime in the studio. The band also focused on the college and one-nighter market and subsequently did not attract reviews by the major music publications, so little was written about their live performances, and almost nothing about their later vocalists. They continued to record on Decca, scoring a hit with “Tenderly” in 1947.
Decline and Post-Band Years
In July 1947, marriage troubles between Brooks and wife LaRue made front page news in the trade magazines. LaRue filed separation papers, charging Brooks with carrying on an affair with bandleader Ina Ray Hutton. Brooks countered that his wife’s drinking made her impossible to live with. The scandal and subsequent divorce seemed to take the wind out of Brooks’ sails, and the band suffered. By early 1948, it had ceased operations.
Brooks married Hutton on April 10, 1949, in Hollywood, and the two of them settled on the West Coast. Soon after, they signed with Brooks’ former booking agency, who hinted that they were working on a deal that would see the pair co-lead a band. Hutton instead formed a new all-girl orchestra which appeared on Los Angeles television for four years, and Brooks started a new band of his own, which he lead until he suffered a stroke in October 1950. Though temporarily paralyzed and blind at first, his health began to improve, and in September 1951 he announced the formation of another orchestra. He had bands in rehearsal off and on for the next year before deciding to abandon the band business altogether and open a music school in North Hollywood.
Brooks and Hutton divorced sometime after 1954, and Brooks moved home to Sanford, Maine, where his mother lived. He announced from there in 1958 that he was putting together a new dance band, but nothing came of it. Brooks died in a fire at his mother’s house in 1967, age 50.
Brooks’ date of birth was stated as March 29 in a newspaper obituary, however both Billboard magazine and Down Beat list it as March 15. Given the inaccuracy of obituaries in general, I’ve gone with the date listed by the trade publications, which are always a more reliable source than newspapers. ↩︎