Harold Leon Breeden was born in Guthrie, Oklahoma, on October 3, 1921. He used "Harold" only when fighting Adolph Hitler. When he was three years of age his parents moved to Wichita Falls, Texas, where he grew up and graduated from high school. He attended Texas Wesleyan College in Ft. Worth on a scholarship and later transferred to Texas Christian University where he completed both his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. While doing graduate work at Columbia University in New York City, he studied clarinet with Sir Reginald Kell of London.
The Breedens had three children while he was on the faculty at TCU. Son Danny Leon was killed by a drunk "hit and run" driver in Dallas in 1968. Daughter Vicki Lynn was born retarded and lives in a halfway house in Denton, and eldest son David McKee is principal clarinetist with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. Breeden is proud of the fact that between the two of them there are fourteen first division medals: David has thirteen, and father, Leon, has one!
Breeden's wife of forty-three years, Bonna Joyce, died in 1988, and in 1990 he married a childhood sweetheart, Bennye Wayne, whom he had met while they were in the fourth grade in Wichita Falls.
At twenty-three, Breeden became the youngest Director of Bands at a major university in the US when he accepted that post at Texas Christian University. He later conducted bands in the Ft. Worth schools and at Grand Prairie Senior High School. During his days as Director of Bands, he wrote original music for more than 130 halftime shows; he also wrote the Grand Prairie High School Alma Mater which is still in use today.
In 1959, Breeden joined the faculty at North Texas as Director of Jazz Studies and thus began a tenure unequalled in success and acclaim. His One O’clock Lab Band became the standard by which all programs were judged.
Breeden was a guest at the White House on three occasions with invitations from Presidents Johnson, Carter and Reagan. His One O’clock Jazz Band from North Texas performed for the State visit of the King and Queen of Thailand in 1967. Guest soloists for this concert were Stan Getz and Duke Ellington, who told Breeden after the concert: "After hearing your band tonight, I'm calling a five hour rehearsal of my band tomorrow."
For eight weeks he attended rehearsals and performances of the NBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Arturo Toscanini. His friend, Don Gillis, introduced him to the maestro and Breeden threatened never to wash his right hand again after this remarkable event.
His recommendation to rename the largest rehearsal hall for the jazz bands at North Texas "Stan Kenton Hall" was approved by the University. Stan Kenton's friendship with Breeden was a major factor in Kenton's donating his entire library to the university upon his death in 1979. Two thousand four hundred and forty pounds of music were delivered to Breeden's office at North Texas in six enormous crates.
As an arranger, Breeden started early with his first arrangement being performed at Will Rogers Auditorium when he was seventeen years of age. Later, his march "Cowtown, U.S.A." was premiered by Paul Lavalle's Cities Service Band on NBC. His arrangements have been performed by the Cleveland and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestras and the Boston "Pops" Orchestra. Arthur Fiedler's offer for Breeden to become his official arranger, succeeding Leroy Anderson, was respectfully declined so that Breeden could return to Texas with his family.
In 1976, he was invited by Dr. William Revelli to prepare an award to be given to those who were successful in both band and stage band work. This award was sponsored by the National Band Association.
Breeden has performed with a variety of groups including the NBC orchestras; the Ft. Worth Opera Orchestra; the Dallas and Ft. Worth Symphonies; the Dallas Jazz Orchestra, and in 1994, with the Northern Illinois University Jazz Band for five highly successful concerts in the Chicago area. He has been a speaker for several Elderhostel groups; has been guest lecturer for the Dallas and Ft. Worth Symphony Leagues; has served as Master of Ceremonies in Las Vegas in honor of Stan Kenton in 1992; and as lecturer for the California Music Educators convention in San Francisco. He served as guest conductor on numerous occasions, the latest being as conductor with Henry Mancini of the McDonald's All American Band during the week of the 1992 Grammy Awards in New York City.
His travels with musical groups have taken him to London, Paris, Portugal, Russia, Mexico, Germany, Spain, and Switzerland and to many cities in the U.S. including Charleston, South Carolina, where for three years he conducted the jazz performances for the Spoleto Music Festival. A highlight came when Ella Fitzgerald asked Breeden after her appearance with the band: "Can I take this band on the road with me?" The fact that all were students prevented this.
When notified that the Texas Senate and House of Representatives had unanimously voted to make May 3, 1981, "Leon Breeden Day in Texas," Breeden's first comment was, "I am sure they thought this was for Willie Nelson." In 1987 after two years of secretly planning to surprise Breeden with a reunion, more than four hundred of his former students congregated in the Silver Eagle Suite at North Texas University. At the end of this two-day event, Breeden's closing remarks were: "You have now given me nothing else to do except DIE, and with some of the spare time I've had since resigning, I have determined what I want on my tombstone: I’M FINALLY ORGANIZED!" He later discarded that idea and determined that THIS will be the inscription: "A Life for God, Family, and Music." That says it all for Leon Breeden!
Leon Breeden past away on August 11, 2010