In what is possibly a first for The University of New Mexico, an alumnus has won a Grammy award. Col. Jim R. Keene, UNM Class of 1988, received a Grammy for Best Immersive Audio Album for the recording Soundtrack of the American Soldier, on which he conducted The United States Army Field Band. No military band has ever won a Grammy before, nor has any concert band won a Grammy award.


Born and raised in the Albuquerque South Valley, Keene played violin in the Albuquerque Youth Symphony and graduated from UNM with a degree in piano performance. He performed in the UNM Symphony and remains an enthusiastic Lobo.

“Since childhood, I was crazy about the Lobo basketball team. I never missed a radio broadcast since the Norm Ellenberger days, listening to Mike Roberts calling the game,” Keene recalled.

He left Albuquerque and went on to get a master’s degree in orchestral conducting from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, graduating with honors. In 1993, Keene was auditioned and was accepted into the Army bands program as a band officer and conductor. 

“I served in Atlanta, in Heidelberg Germany, at the Army School of Music, the Army Band ‘Pershing's Own,’ the commander of the West Point Band at the U.S. Military Academy, and in 2015, was selected as the commander of The U.S. Army Field Band,” he said, adding that in his career he has also led the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Pops, The Detroit Symphony, the Dallas Wind Symphony, performed on piano with Ray Charles in Frankfurt, Germany and has performed for six presidents, led music for funerals of three presidents and numerous performances at the White House for many dignitaries. 

The United States Army Field Band is based at Fort Meade, MD, between Baltimore and Washington D.C.  

“The Grammy award was a long time in coming,” Keene remarked. “When I first went to Skywalker Studios and George Lucas' Ranch more than 10 years ago and met Leslie Ann Jones, I knew I wanted to record there. When I first stood in front of the United States Army Field Band, I knew this was the group to take to Skywalker.”

There are so many fine concert bands in the world, he said, but the best concert bands are in the U.S. military – namely those premier bands in Washington D.C. that represent the top tier of national musicianship.

“It shouldn't surprise you to hear that I believe the U.S. Army Field Band is the best band in the world. The reason is the number of performances they do, performing more than 100 concerts per year, each one on a different stage, often in a different city or town across the nation and around the world.”

As a part of The U.S. Army Field Band's fall tour in 2018 along the west coast, Keene and the others spent five days recording The Soundtrack of the American Soldier. The recording was designed to honor the American Soldier through music from movies, video games, and new commissioned pieces. 

The album includes music from the 1941 Gary Cooper classic Sergeant York, the legendary video game Medal of Honor, the 1917 classic Over ThereMarch from the Steven Spielberg film 1941 written by film-scoring legend John Williams, and an homage to the Skywalker Ranch, home of Skywalker Sound where the album was recorded, The Jedi Steps and Finale From Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

“In addition to working with the incomparable Leslie Ann Jones, Skywalker Sound and her team, we worked with the amazingly talented Dan Merceruio, who was the album's designer and producer,” Keene enthused. “The recording was magic, because the listener can hear exactly how the recording was done because of the technology and skill of team working in the immersive environment. The speakers forward, to the sides, and above create an environment where even the most subtle details can be heard and felt. This recording was one of the most complex ever attempted, given more than 80 musicians were captured live in the immersive environment. Only The U.S. Army Field Band could have accomplished this feat in such a short time.  I conducted all the music on the album.”

Jones, Merceruio, master mixer Michael Romanoski, and Keene all received recognition for their work on The Soundtrack of the American Soldier. The award was postponed from the 63rd Grammy Awards last year, due to the pandemic, and presented this year.

“We are thrilled for Col. Jim Keene and the U.S. Army Field Band. It is incredibly exciting to have a UNM alumnus win such a high-profile award. In February the Department of Music recognized Col. Keene as Department of Music Distinguished Alumnus. The Grammy award displays yet again the excellence that Col. Keene exemplifies. He is an exceptional representative for UNM,” said Michael Hix, interim chair at the UNM Department of Music in the College of Fine Arts.

Keene is married to Carmen Keene, another Lobo alum who majored at UNM in vocal performance. They have three children: Liana, an artist who majored in Fine Arts; Cora, who is majoring in Motion Graphics; and Joseph, a junior in High School in Severna Park, MD, where the family now lives.  

“Everyone in my family is musical,” Keene noted.

He looks forward to retirement soon and returning to the Land of Enchantment to fish.

“New Mexico is my home, no matter how long I have been away. I will always be a Lobo.”