Music has always been a favourite pastime throughout human history. From lute players to modern pop artists, musicians of all backgrounds and styles entertained crowds of listeners. What may not be known to some is that local archives contain historical records about past musicians. In the below blog post, staff from the Daly House Museum highlight Roy Brown Collection, which documents an interesting period in Canadian music history.
Ninety years ago a new musical sound took North America by storm. It became known as the Big Band or Swing era. The period between 1935 to 1945 was the only time in North American music history that the popularity of this form of jazz eclipsed all other forms of music. The popularity of the sound was due in part to the emergence of radios in private households allowing listeners the ability to enjoy music for free during the Great Depression. Eventually the sound of these big bands with their trumpets and trombones became a way to lift morale of the public during World War II. Roy Brown and His Orchestra was one of those bands. During the Big Band era it became one of the most popular bands on the Prairies and helped start the career of many young local musicians.
Formed in 1939, the Brown Orchestra made its first appearance at Clear Lake’s Danceland and was quickly rated as “the best 10-piece band in Canada.”. The band consisted of the five Brown brothers - Roy, Joe, Frank, Percy and Tom Brown. Other band members included Sig Johnson, Vic Gellert, Harry Boone, Bob McCullough, and Jay Hannay. The group played regularly at Danceland and at Brandon’s Imperial Dance Garden until 1946. After seven years of entertaining thousands of Canadian soldiers the Brown Orchestra disbanded as the Big Band era ended along with the end of World War II.
Image info: The last performance of Roy Brown and His Band at Danceland, Clear Lake, Manitoba in 1946. Roy Brown is pictured on the far left. Roy Brown Collection, Daly House Museum
Band leader Roy Brown went on to have a diverse career as a musician, businessman, historian, and inventor that spanned 50 years. He owned a dance hall on 10th Street in Brandon named the Esquire and in the 1950s, the Roy Brown Show was one of the earliest programs on CKX-TV. In the 70s & 80s, original compositions by Roy such as “We’re Proud of Brandon”, “Manitoba Has the Best of Ev’rything”, “When You Come to Grand Valley”, and the “Garden of Peace” were performed by the Wheat City Chorus and the Training Command Band from Canadian Forces Base, Winnipeg for Manitoba’s and Brandon Centennial Events.
Image info: The Roy Brown Variety Show first aired on CKX-TV, May 5, 1955. Roy Brown Collection, Daly House Museum
As an inventor, He created a successful piece of furniture called the Rokorol that could be converted from baby furniture into every day furniture such as a portable coffee table or end table. The City of Brandon sent the product to Princess Elizabeth as a present in celebration of the birth of Prince Charles in 1948.
Image info: Rokorol Corp Display at the Los Angeles County Fair, Pomona, California, September 1948. Actress Joan was the model in the product photographs on display. Roy Brown Collection, Daly House Museum
As a historian, Roy researched and wrote history books such as the “Steamboats on the Assiniboine” which covered the history of the steamboats that plied the Assiniboine and Red Rivers between 1870 to the 1890s. Roy received the Manitoba Gold Boy Award for his active role in preserving Manitoba’s history in 1970. Today, you can obtain a copy of his book through Daly House Museum’s gift shop.
Daly House Museum also holds the Roy Brown Collection consisting of photographs, and audio recordings of Roy Brown and His Orchestra as well as photographs and prototypes of Brown’s inventions. Recently, Daly House Museum received funding from the Brandon Area Community Foundation courtesy of the foundation’s fund holders Gord & Diane Peters to digitize the collection. The recordings (14 tape reels, 1 eight-track recording, 13 cassette tapes, and 9 LP records) were sent to Richard L. Hess Tape Restoration Resources for digitization and restoration.
Image info: The Roy Brown audio collection that was digitized by Richard L. Hess Tape Restoration Resources thanks to funding from the Brandon Area Community Foundation in 2021.
The conversion of the collection to a digital format has brought to light unknown recordings. For instance, there is a recording made at a 1979 Brown Band reunion at Clear Lake where Roy recounts what dances at Danceland were like in the 1940s.
“… this place was packed with people in uniform. It wasn’t uncommon to see two hundred to three hundred young men here waiting to pounce on the first gal that come in that door. There were no wall flowers believe me. They were hectic years and I can recall leaving the dances and we’d go home and listen to the radio to find out the number of planes shot down in the Battle of Britian…”
– Roy Brown, Recorded at Danceland, Clear Lake, Manitoba 1979.
Roy Brown lived an exceptional life and his legacy to Manitoba’s history is not forgotten; he and his orchestra live on through their music which is now available to help future generations understand local life during one of the most difficult times in world history.
For more information about the Roy Brown Collection contact Daly House Museum at firstname.lastname@example.org