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Doc Severinsen: The Man Behind the Trumpet and the Outrageous Outfits

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Doc Severinsen, known best for leading the NBC Orchestra from 1967-1992 on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, has amused millions with his musical talent and eccentric fashion sense.

Early life and musical beginnings

Doc Severinsen
Doc Severinsen

Doc Severinsen was born Carl Hilding Severinsen on July 7, 1927, in Arlington, Oregon to dentist father Dr. Frederick Severinsen and homemaker mother Lillis Johnson; Doc got his nickname from both of them; both fathers were known in Arlington as Doc by locals. From an early age Severinsen took an interest in music; starting playing cornet at seven. By nine he won a state trumpet contest before joining a high school band at thirteen. At 14 he auditioned for Tommy Dorsey but wasn’t hired; later playing big bands such as Charlie Barnet, Ted Fio Rito and Benny Goodman alongside serving World War II service with honorable distinction.

The Tonight Show and beyond

In 1949, Severinsen obtained a studio musician position for NBC where he provided musical accompaniment for singers and performers such as Steve Allen, Eddie Fisher, Dinah Shore and Kate Smith. He played his signature closing theme tune while also being part of Tonight Starring Steve Allen’s original band until 1957 when he left that show; later returning in 1962 as first-chair trumpeter for Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show and eventually leading its orchestra until Carson retired in 1992.

Severinsen was not only a talented musician but also a captivating personality. He enjoyed an exceptional rapport with Carson, often making jokes together on air. Additionally, he became well known for his quirky wardrobe consisting of sequined suits with feathered hats and animal prints as he expressed himself and had fun while doing it; one time explaining: “I dress this way for show business purposes – not because it will get me anywhere”.

Doc Severinsen had an illustrious career beyond The Tonight Show. He recorded several albums as both a solo artist and with his band; winning a Grammy award in 1987 for Doc Severinsen and The Tonight Show Band – Volume I was among his accomplishments. Additionally, he performed for orchestras, jazz festivals, Sesame Street programs, Sesame Workshop, Sesame Workshop children learning the trumpet were just a few venues he performed at; eventually retiring at 95 from performing himself!

Personal life and legacy

Severinsen has been married three times and has five children and several grandchildren from each marriage. Emily Marshall, an accomplished violinist whom he married in 2017, is his current spouse; they currently reside in San Miguel de Allende Mexico where Severinsen enjoys painting, gardening and supporting animal rights issues.

Severinsen is widely recognized as one of the greatest jazz trumpeters of all time and a cultural icon. He influenced numerous musicians such as Wynton Marsalis, Arturo Sandoval and Chris Botti; won many honors and awards such as National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award, American Federation of Musicians Lifetime Achievement Award, International Trumpet Guild Honorary Award; as well as having his name immortalized on both Hollywood Walk of Fame and Arlington’s street namesake named for him.

Doc Severinsen was truly one of the greats. Through his music and style he brought joy and inspiration to millions of people all around the globe – truly becoming a legend of jazz and show business.

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