He was a pianist, composer and orchestral conductor born Lyle Russell Cedric Henderson in Birmingham, England. He studied the piano and received classical training from Arturo Toscanini, Fritz Reiner and Arnold Schoenberg among others.
He started to play in the roadhouses of the Midwest in the 1930s before joining MGM’s music department and touring with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland as well as performing on Bob Hope’s Pepsodent Show. He became the music director of NBC Radio shows of Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, who gave him the name Skitch which was meant to come from his ability to quickly “re-sketch” a song in a different key, and later became the music director for NBC Television.
In WWII he returned to Britain to serve as a fighter pilot in the Royal Air Force and once he had received his American citizenship he joined the US Army Air Corps as a bomber pilot.
He conducted shows such as Today Show and The Tonight Show as well as appearing with many international orchestras. In 1983 he founded the New York Pops which is the largest symphonic pops orchestra in the United States and in 1997 was awarded the Handel Medallion by the City of New York.
He has made numerous recordings in his career as a pianist and conductor and won a Grammy Award in 1963 for his recording of Porgy and Bess. Having received several honorary degrees he was made Distinguished Professor of Music at Western Connecticut State University. He died at his home in Milford , Connecticut aged 87.
New York Pops Orchestra recordings
Ragtime (Lynn Ahrens/Stephen Flaherty)
Centaur CRC 2401 (CD: Magical Moments from Great Musicals)
Conductor and piano – Skitch Henderson
Assistant Conductor – Charles Prince
Toronto Symphony Orchestra recordings
Concerto in C for Piano and Orchestra (Leroy Anderson)
Spy Recordings SPY SRCD-1001 (CD: The Music of Leroy Anderson)
Conductor – Skitch Henderson
Piano – Catherine Wilson