Born in 1918 with the name Lyle Russell Cedric Henderson, Skitch Henderson successfully transformed himself into an icon of American popular music, and went on to found The New York Pops in 1983. Skitch started his career in the 1930s playing piano in the roadhouses of the Midwest, and then joined a touring Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. Later, as a member of MGM’s music department, he played on Bob Hope’s Pepsodent Show. At NBC Radio, Skitch was the music director for Frank Sinatra’s Lucky Strike Show and The Philco Hour with Bing Crosby (from whom he acquired the name “Skitch”). Skitch received classical training under Fritz Reiner, Albert Coates, Arnold Schoenberg, Ernest Toch, and Arturo Toscanini, who invited him to conduct the NBC Symphony. As music director for NBC Television, Skitch conducted on The Tonight Show and Today Show, and went on to guest conduct numerous symphonic orchestras throughout the world. In 2005 Skitch returned to NBC, conducting The New York Pops in the national telecast of Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular.
A 1963 Grammy winner for his groundbreaking recording of Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, his recordings span the era of 78’s to DVD’s. His final releases include a jazz recording with Bucky Pizzarelli where he appears as a pianist, and a CD conducting The New York Pops with singer Maureen McGovern in With a Song in My Heart: The Great Songs of Richard Rodgers.
Skitch married Ruth Einsiedel in 1958. In 1972, they opened The Silo, a renowned store, art gallery, and cooking school in New Milford, Connecticut. In 2003 Ruth and Skitch Henderson co-founded the Hunt Hill Farm Trust, an effort to preserve their farm’s land and buildings and to celebrate Americana in music, art and literature through the creation of a living museum. An affiliation with the Smithsonian Institution resulted in the Trust’s inaugural exhibit: Skitch Henderson: A Man and His Music. For his contributions to American culture, Skitch Henderson was awarded the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal by the Smithsonian Institution on January 29, 2005. In 1997 he was awarded the Handel Medallion by the City of New York for the vital role he played in the cultural life of New York. He was also the recipient of honorary degrees from Five Towns College, St. Thomas Aquinas College, the University of South Florida, and Western Connecticut State University, where he was appointed Distinguished Professor of Music.
Skitch Henderson died on November 1, 2005 at his home in New Milford, Connecticut at the age of 87.