Big band leader James Last, whose 'happy sound' sold millions of records, dies in Florida

A March 26, 2015, photo shows German bandleader and composer James Last performing with his orchestra at the O2 World in Hamburg, Germany. Last, famous for his arrangements of easy listening hits, died at the age of 86 in Florida. -- PHOTO: EPA
A March 26, 2015, photo shows German bandleader and composer James Last performing with his orchestra at the O2 World in Hamburg, Germany. Last, famous for his arrangements of easy listening hits, died at the age of 86 in Florida. -- PHOTO: EPA

BERLIN (REUTERS) - German-born band leader and composer James Last, famous for his arrangements of easy listening hits, has died at the age of 86 in Florida, his concert organiser said on Wednesday (June 11).

He died in the presence of his family on Tuesday (June 10) after a short illness, said Sammel Concerts.

Last, who sold more than 80 million records worldwide, was best known for pop hits in a big band style.

His trademark "happy sound" included a strong dance beat, crowd noise and laughter blended into the tunes. His first album, entitled Non Stop Dancing, was released in 1965.

Born in the northern German city of Bremen, Last was originally a piano player and after World War II began a musical career that lasted some six decades.

Popular around the world, he appeared at London's Royal Albert Hall earlier this year.

Last "lived for music and wrote musical history", said Semmel Concerts, adding he was the most successful German band leader of all time. "In him, the world loses a unique ambassador whose strong and all-embracing language was music," added the firm.

A memorial service will take place in Hamburg, probably in the coming weeks.