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Skitch Henderson's Beard - In 1955, Skitch Henderson, conductor of NBC's THE TONIGHT SHOW orchestra, began to sport his now famous Van Dyke beard.

Skitch Henderson's SKITCH...TONIGHT! album

Skitch informed reporters that he grew his beard following the example of Sir Thomas Beecham, a conductor he admired. He hoped the beard would inspire him to become a serious musician.

Before his gig as conductor and bandleader on TONIGHT! and later THE TONIGHT SHOW from 1953-1966, Skitch Henderson led bands on  such radio programs as THE PEPSODENT SHOW starring Bob Hope, THE LUCKY STRIKE SHOW starring Frank Sinatra and THE PHILCO HOUR starring Bing Crosby.

In 1983, Skitch founded the New York Pops. He later received the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal from the Smithsonian Institution in recognition of his contributions to American Culture.

A legacy of Henderson's works (The Skitch Henderson Collection) now resides at the UW–Madison’s Mills Music Library at the University of Wisconsin.

Skitch Henderson at piano on the set of TONIGHT! with Steve Allen and guests
Skitch at the piano on set of TONIGHT! (circa 1952-54)

Born Lyle Russell Cedric Henderson on January 27, 1918 in Birmingham, England, noted composer, conductor, and bandleader Skitch Henderson died of natural causes on November 1, 2005 in New Milford, Connecticut.

Henderson's nickname "Skitch" (derived from "Sketch kid") was given by singer Bing Crosby because of Skitch's ability to "Sketch" out musical scores in different keys.


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