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1998 Legacies Series

Luther Henderson & Friends
The Legacies Series, an oral history project, features our theatre elders — actors, writers, directors, composers, designers and producers — working people who have kept alive a dedication to the precarious profession that is theatre. This program honors their work by the passing on of their working histories to those of us coming up after them.

Connected Ideas

At the Riverside Church, Harlem
Hosted by Billie Allen & David Bunn

Luther Henderson—In 1997, The American Theatre Wing at last established a Tony Award category for Best Orchestration of a Musical and Luther Henderson, with a career of more than 50 years in American musical theatre, was among the first nominees. Mr. Henderson composed, arranged, orchestrated and conducted some of the most memorable shows both on and off Broadway, including Jelly’s Last Jam and Play On!, both of which earned him Tony nominations.

Immediately after graduating from the Music Education program at Juilliard, Mr. Henderson started his professional career working with Duke Ellington, who referred to him as his “classical arm.”  He went on to work with Billy Strayhorn, Andre Kostelanetz, Richard Rogers, Lena Horne and countless other legendary artists.

Mr. Henderson has worked on over two dozen Broadway productions. He was the musical consultant for Ain’t Misbahavin’, and as dance arranger/orchestrator, his Broadway credits include: Flower Drum Song, Do-Re-Mi, Funny Girl, Hallelujah Baby, No, No Nanette, and the ballet Three Black Kings composed by Duke Ellington.

In off-Broadway and regional theatre, Mr. Henderson was the composer for the AMAS Repertory Theatre production of The Crystal Tree and was musical supervisor, orchestrator and arranger for The All Night Strut at the Ford Theatre in Washington, D.C. and  Jazzbo Brown in New York City.

His television and film credits include musical director, orchestrator, arranger and pianist for the Columbia Pictures Television special, Ain’t Misbehavin’, for which he received an Emmy nomination. In addition, he has worked on the following TV specials:  The Bachelor, the Emmy Award winning  Helen Morgan Story starring Polly Bergen, The First Victor Borge Special , The Second Victor Borge Special, and the PBS-TV special The V.D. Blues.  In film, Mr. Henderson was the composer and orchestrator for Recess and The Slams.

Albums to his credit include several with the Canadian Brass Quintet and Eileen Farrell’s I Got a Right to Sing the Blues, re-released in 1992; for Columbia Records, the Luther Henderson Orchestra recorded six albums. Mr. Henderson contributed to various albums recorded by the Duke Ellington Orchestra, the Andre Kostelanetz Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic, Mandy Patinkin, Polly Bergen, Anita Ellis, among others.  His composition, “Ten Good Years,” (lyrics by Martin Charnin), was recorded by Nancy Wilson on her Coconut Grove album.

For Mr. Henderson, the work he did with with Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Jule Styne, Carol Haney, Richard Rogers and Lena Horne was some of the most important of his long career. He was married to actress/director Billie Allen. Mr. Henderson passed away in July 2003 at the age of 84, and in 2004 he received a posthumous Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

J. Leonard Oxley—Mr. Oxley has known Luther Henderson for over 25 years. He was musical director on Broadway for Jelly’s Last Jam and assistant musical director for Play On!. He is an accomplished musician and conductor, and has worked on numerous musicals on and off-Broadway and in regional theater, including Black and Blue and Ain’t Misbehavin’. Mr. Oxley most recently received Chicago’s Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Musical Direction for Play On!