news-category: Performing Arts

Legendary Tonight Show Band Leader, Trumpeter Doc Severinsen Featured at Gardner-Webb

A black and white photo of Doc Severinsen, left, and Johnny Carson

April 5th Event Includes Conversation with Musician and His Wife, Trumpeter Cathy Leach

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—Every night from 1962 to 1992, trumpeter Doc Severinsen came into millions of viewers’ living rooms via The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. When Carson retired, Severinsen and his band hit the road, and have continued to perform. On April 5, Doc Severinsen will appear at Gardner-Webb University. The special evening will include Severinsen and his wife, trumpeter Cathy Leach, with a conversation on their life in music. This intimate event begins at 7:30 p.m. in Tucker Student Center’s Stewart Hall.  

Trumpeter Tim Hudson, GWU associate professor of music, has had the honor of performing with Severinsen, most recently in Charleston, S.C. “I’ve personally known Doc since the 1980s, and he has been one of my trumpet heroes since I was in high school,” Hudson shared. “Doc and his wife Cathy are two of the finest artists and teachers in the country. I’m thrilled to have them on our campus. They will also talk about music and answers questions.”  

Severinsen’s repertoire includes Ellington and Basie standards, pop, jazz, ballads, big band classics and, of course, The Tonight Show theme. He can still hit the high notes, a result of his continued commitment to the practice studio and the refinement of his craft. Severinsen has not lost his flair for the outrageous fashion statement or his trademark wit. He performs on a S.E. Shires Severinsen Destino III, a trumpet he developed with Steve Shires and the S.E. Shires Company in Massachusetts.

A Grammy award-winner, Severinsen has made more than 30 albums—from big band to jazz-fusion to classical. The Very Best of Doc Severinsen reprises 15 of Doc’s signature pieces. His other recordings include Unforgettably Doc with the Cincinnati Pops on Telarc, and the Grammy-nominated Once More With Feeling on Amherst. He received a Grammy Award for “Best Jazz instrumental Performance – Big Band” for his recording of Doc Severinsen and The Tonight Show Band-Volume I.

Leach is professor of trumpet and associate director of Undergraduate Studies at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. She played principal trumpet with the Knoxville Symphony and Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestras for 31 years. She is currently vice-president/president-elect of the International Trumpet Guild, and has served the organization as a board Member, committee chair, performing artist, and competitions judge.

Severinsen’s accomplishments began in his hometown of Arlington, Ore. Born on July 7, 1927, and named Carl H. Severinsen, he was nicknamed “Little Doc” after his father, Dr. Carl Severinsen, a dentist. Little Doc had originally wanted to play the trombone. But Doc Sr., a gifted amateur violinist, urged him to follow in his footsteps. Doc Jr. insisted on the trombone, which turned out to be unavailable in tiny Arlington’s music store. And so, a trumpet it would be. A week later, with the help of his father and a manual of instructions, the 7-year-old was so good that he was invited to join the high school band. At the age of 12, Little Doc won the Music Educator’s National Contest and, while still in high school, was hired to go on the road with the famous Ted Fio Rito Orchestra. However, his stay with the group was cut short by the draft. He served in the Army during World War II and following his discharge, landed a spot with the Charlie Barnett Band. When this band broke up, Severinsen toured with the Tommy Dorsey, then, the Benny Goodman bands in the late 40s.

After his days with Barnett and Dorsey, Severinsen arrived in New York City in 1949 to become a staff musician for NBC. After years of playing with NBC’s many studio bands, he was invited to play a gig in the highly respected Tonight Show Band. The band leader at the time, Skitch Henderson, asked him to join that band in 1962 in the first trumpet chair. Five years later, Severinsen became the Music Director for The Tonight Show. His loyalty to Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon never faltered, and the warm camaraderie between the three was an enormous part of the show’s success. 

Tickets are $25 for adults, and $5 for students and children. Purchase tickets here.

Auxiliary aids will be made available to persons with disabilities upon request 10 working days prior to the event.  Please call 704-406-4270 or email [email protected] with your request.

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to six professional schools, 14 academic departments, more than 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and a world-class faculty. Located on a beautiful 225-acre campus in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb prepares graduates to impact their chosen professions, equips them with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspires them to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. Ignite your future at

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