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Arranger, orchestrator for Ellington, Broadway, TVby Todd S. Jenkins
Copyright © 2003 Todd S. JenkinsTodd S. Jenkins
Luther Henderson, a well-respected arranger in both jazz and Broadway circles, died of cancer at a New York City hospice on July 28, 2003. He was 84 years old.
Henderson was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1919. The family moved to Harlem when he was four, residing near Duke Ellington's family in the Sugar Hill neighborhood. After graduating in 1942 from Juilliard, where he concentrated on arranging, Henderson served in the U.S. Navy until the end of World War II.
He first collaborated with Ellington on the unsuccessful 1946 Broadway musical, "Beggar's Holiday". Henderson's skill at orchestrating for all manner of ensembles led Ellington and Billy Strayhorn to rely repeatedly on the man Duke called his "classical arm" as their compositions became more ambitious. Some of Henderson's finest achievements were his charts for Ellington's Carnegie Hall concerts. Unfortunately, Henderson was often denied credit for his work on Ellington's material.
In the 1950s Henderson moved into television work, writing for "The Bell Telephone Hour", "The Ed Sullivan Show" and variety specials. In addition, he arranged both music and dances for major Broadway productions like "Ain't Misbehavin'", "Do Re Mi", "No, No, Nanette", "Play On!" (for which he receied a Tony nomination), "Funny Girl", and "Flower Drum Song". He worked on over forty Broadway shows in all. One of his last, most acclaimed projects was the Tony-nominated "Jelly's Last Jam", starring Gregory Hines, whom Henderson preceded in death by only a few days.
Henderson also had a fruitful relationship with the Canadian Brass, for whom he wrote many arrangements of jazz and classical pieces. At Carnegie Hall in 2000, Sir Simon Rattle and the Orchestra of St. Luke's presented a special concert of Henderson's arrangements for Ellington. Earlier this year Henderson was declared a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, but he did not live to receive the fellowship.
Henderson is survived by his fourth wife, theater director Billie Allen, sons Denson and Luther III, daughter Melanie, stepson Duane Grant, stepdaughter Carolyn Grant, two grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Todd S. Jenkins
Todd S. Jenkins is a member of the JJA, author of Free Jazz and Free Improvisation: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2004) and I Know What I Know: The Music of Charles Mingus (Praeger, 2006), and a contributor to Down Beat, All About Jazz, American Songwriter and Route 66 Magazine.