Leon Breeden, who was director of UNT's jazz studies program and the One O'Clock Lab Band from 1959 to 1981, was awarded an honorary doctorate at UNT's 2009 summer doctoral commencement ceremony.
The honorary degree is awarded by the university to a candidate who has demonstrated high standards of excellence through his or her scholastic achievements, professional accomplishments, philanthropy or public service record.
Under Breeden's direction, UNT's jazz studies program — the first of its kind in the country — rose to international prominence. It was during his tenure that world-renowned bandleader Stan Kenton discovered the jazz program, at the Notre Dame National Jazz Festival, a moment that is widely considered to be a breakthrough for the program's ongoing international reputation.
During his two decades, Breeden also directed the One O'Clock Lab Band, a name that developed when he moved the rehearsal time for the premiere band up to 1 from 2 p.m.
Before he stepped down, the lab bands celebrated many "firsts" under Breeden's direction, such as becoming the first college or university band to appear at the White House by presidential invitation in 1967. The lab bands also received almost 50 national awards for group performance and for individual performance.
Breeden also developed a reputation for himself beyond the university to become a respected clarinetist, saxophonist, arranger and composer. His arrangements were performed by many groups, including the Boston Pops and the Cleveland and the Cincinnati orchestras.
Breeden earned a 'Fessor Graham award in 1965 and an Outstanding Professor honor in 1976. The Texas Legislature proclaimed May 3, 1981, "Leon Breeden Day."
In 1985, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame for the National Association of Jazz Educators. The North Texas Jazz Festival unveiled a Leon Breeden Award for the best middle school or high school big band in 2003.
Now a professor emeritus of music, Breeden was recognized as an Honorary Alumnus at UNT in 1986 and has played important roles at many of the jazz program's celebrations and milestone anniversaries.
Breeden earned a bachelor of arts in music education and master of music education from Texas Christian University. He was awarded an honorary "Doctor of Letters" by TCU in 2001.
Monique Bird with UNT News Service can be reached at Monique.Birdi@unt.edu.