Luther Henderson

Luther Henderson (born March 14, 1919 – died July 29, 2003) was a composer, arranger, conductor, musical director, orchestrator, and pianist. He was a proud black man who graduated from the Julliard School of Music in 1942, and in 1956, married a white woman, his second wife. He was Duke Ellington’s “classical arm,” orchestrating music for Beggar’s Holiday, Three Black Kings, and other symphonic works. Duke spoke highly of Luther, but seldom gave him the credit he was due. Luther was Lena Horne’s pianist and musical director. During his sixty-year career in music, he worked his magic on some of Broadway’s greatest musical hits, including Flower Drum Song, Funny Girl, No No Nanette, Purlie, Ain’t Misbehavin’, and Jelly’s Last Jam, starring such performers as Barbra Streisand, Laine Kazan, Robert Guillaume, Savion Glover, Andre Deshields, Tonya Pinkins, and Gregory Hines. His music was heard on television programs such as The Ed Sullivan Show, The Bell Telephone Hour, and specials for the pop stars of the day including Dean Martin, Carol Burnett, Andy Williams, Victor Borge, and Polly Bergen. In later years his Broadway credits included Ain’t Misbehavin, Jelly’s Last Jam, and Play On, but the project perhaps dearest to his heart was Classic Ellington a concert of Ellington songs arranged and orchestrated by Luther Henderson and performed by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Simon Rattle.

Just before he died he was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master and you can see the NEA’s brief video bio here.