Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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HENDERSON, Luther

(b Luther Lincoln Henderson, 1919, Kansas City MO; d 29 July 2003, New York City) Arranger, composer, conductor. Henderson's family moved to New York City when he was four, and they were neighbours of Duke Ellington; Mercer Ellington was a classmate. Henderson majored in mathematics at the College of the City of New York, graduating in 1938, but his chief interest was music; after graduation from Juilliard, he was drafted into the US Navy where he became an arranger with the Navy jazz band, which included Clark Terry. He graduated from New York University's Graduate School of Music in 1947. Most of his work was in the musical theatre both on and off-Broadway; an early job was orchestrating Tropical Review in 1943, and another show was Beggar's Holiday in 1946, Ellington's only Broadway musical; this was the beginning of a sporadic but long-lasting association with Duke. Henderson's classical training was useful in symphonic orchestrations for Ellington/ Billy Strayhorn extended compositions, such as A Drum Is A Woman.

Among the shows for which he was musical director or arranger were Flower Drum Song (dance arranger in 1958), Do Re Mi (1960), Funny Girl (1964), Hallelujah Baby (1967), the 1971 revival of No, No, Nanette, Ain't Misbehavin' (also the original pianist when the show opened in 1978), and Lena Horne: The Lady And Her Music (1981). (He was Horne's pianist and musical director for some years.) He was also composer of The Crystal Tree (off-Broadway) and co-composer of Jelly's Last Jam (Tony nomination for Best Score, 1992). He was dance arranger for Ellington's Three Black Kings (1973), staged by the Dance Theatre of Harlem as Les Trois Rois Noirs. Other shows included The All Night Strut!, Jazzbo Brown, Play On! (Tony nomination for orchestrations), and Little Ham (2002). His television work included a performance of Ain't Misbehavin' (for which he served as musical director, orchestrator, arranger, and pianist, and was nominated for an Emmy), as well as The Helen Morgan Story with Polly Bergen (1957; Bergen won an Emmy) and others, as well as specials with Bergen, Victor Borge, Carol Burnett, Dean Martin and Andy Williams. For the movies, Henderson did the scores for Recess (1967) and The Slams (1973).

Henderson had a gift for rearranging the music of others for the assignment at hand. His arrangements have been used by artists as diverse as André Kostelanetz, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Mandy Patinkin, Teresa Brewer, Anna Maria Alberghetti, Tammy Grimes, Carmen McRae and Anita Ellis. His song 'Ten Good Years' (lyrics by Martin Charnin) was recorded by Nancy Wilson. A particularly nice piece of work was the understated arrangements for the Polly Bergen album The Party's Over in 1957 (a CD reissue on Collectables '99 forgot to credit him). He also wrote arrangements for the Canadian Brass for many years. In 1999, Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra recorded Henderson's orchestrations of Ellington's music, under the title Classic Ellington, also conducted by Rattle at Carnegie Hall with the Orchestra of St. Luke's, soloists including his old comrade Terry, Dianne Reeves and Regina Carter. In 2003, shortly before his death, Henderson was chosen by the National Endowment for the Arts for a Jazz Masters fellowship. In 2008 his widow established a music scholarship at Juilliard in his name.