May 18: The Man Who Took the Greatest Generation on a “Sleigh Ride.”

 

Today in 1975, American composer and longtime Connecticut resident Leroy Anderson passed away in his Woodbury home. Famous for whimsical and catchy orchestral pieces, such as the perennial Christmastime favorite”Sleigh Ride,” “The Syncopated Clock,” and “Blue Tango,”  Anderson’s compositions helped define popular music of mid-20th century America. Fellow composer and Boston Pops conductor John Williams described Anderson as “an American original” and “one of the great American masters of light orchestral music.”

Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1908, Anderson studied at both the New England Conservatory of Music and Harvard, becoming proficient in numerous musical instruments and fluent in nine languages. After graduation, he worked under conductor Arthur Fiedler, arranging and composing pieces for the Boston Pops Orchestra until being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942. Anderson’s language skills landed him in the Army’s intelligence service, where he served until 1946. During the war, Anderson still found time to arrange and compose new works, including “The Syncopated Clock,” which became one of his most famous pieces.

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After World War II, Anderson and his family moved to Woodbury, Connecticut. There, he wrote “Sleigh Ride” during a relentless heatwave in 1946 and created a soundproofed room where he could compose in what he called “splendid isolation.” A few years later, he recorded “Blue Tango,” which was the first of a number of his compositions (including “Sleigh Ride”) to reach #1 on the Billboard charts. For the next twenty years, Anderson remained active as a composer, guest conductor, and arranger of orchestral tunes, popular music, and even Broadway musical pieces.

On May 18, 1975, Leroy Anderson died of cancer in Woodbury, Connecticut. He was posthumously awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and his house in Woodbury has since been entered into the National Register of Historic Places.

Further Reading

Biography,” The Leroy Anderson Foundation

Leroy Anderson Composed Iconic Music in Woodbury,” connecticuthistory.org

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