Arts and Leisure

Leroy Anderson: An Immigrants’ Son Takes A Sleigh Ride to the Hollywood Walk of Fame

In the early 1930s, a Harvard graduate student named Leroy Anderson almost made the biggest mistake of his life. He had taken a job teaching languages at a school in Pennsylvania. Though he was a trained musician, he didn’t think a musical career held much promise.

Leroy Anderson

Leroy Anderson

At the last minute, Leroy Anderson changed his mind and became director of the Harvard University Band. He composed some witty pieces for the band, which Boston Pops conductor Arthur Fiedler heard and loved. Fiedler asked him to write something for the Pops.

Anderson then became one of the most successful composers of light orchestral music ever.

You may not recognize the name Leroy Anderson, but you know his music. Sleigh Ride, which he wrote in an August heat wave in 1948, has been performed by a wider variety of musicians than any other piece in the history of Western music.

Sleigh Ride wasn’t his only hit.

His recording of Blue Tango in 1952 was the first orchestral piece reach No. 1 on the Billboard charts. Plink, Plank, Plunk was the theme song for the popular television show I’ve Got A Secret from 1962 to 1971. AndTypewriter has been the theme song of the BBC 4 Radio Show The News Quiz since 1977.

Leroy Anderson was born June 29, 1908, in Cambridge, Mass., the son of Swedish immigrants. His father, Bror, worked as a clerk in the Central Square Post Office; his mother, Anna Margareta, played organ at the Swedish Evangelical Mission Church. Leroy grew up on 12 Chatham Street in Cambridge. He said he got all his education on one street: Broadway. He attended Harvard Grammar School, Cambridge High and Latin (now Cambridge Rindge and Latin) and Harvard University. He also studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.

3292.200 naxos leroy anderson ocard 6.inddAnd yet he worked toward a PhD in German and Scandinavian languages while working as a music tutor at Radcliffe College. He enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army in 1942 and was sent to Iceland as a translator and interpreter for the U.S. Counter Intelligence Corps. While there he wrote an Icelandic grammar book for the army. He was promoted to captain and sent to the Pentagon in 1945 as chief of the Scandinavian Desk of Military Intelligence. That didn’t stop him from composing. In 1945 he wrote The Syncopated Clock. He was offered the post of U.S. military attaché to Sweden, but he had finally decided to make composing his full-time profession.

It was a good call. Leroy Anderson won many accolades during his life, including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and election to the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Harvard named its new band headquarters after him and Cambridge named the corner near his boyhood home Leroy Anderson Square.

In 1972, the Boston Pops Orchestra paid tribute to Leroy Anderson in a nationally broadcast concert. He guest conducted one piece and told his wife Eleanor it was the most important evening of his life.

Leroy Anderson died on May 18, 1975, in Woodbury, Conn., where he and his family lived since 1946.

The Leroy Anderson House in Woodbury, Connecticut is on the National Register of Historic Places. You can hear the Boston Pops play Sleigh Ride here, Syncopated Clock here, Typewriter here and Fiddle Faddle here.

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  1. Bette Roy

    June 29, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    Whenever I think of the Pops and Arthur Fiedler, I instantly hear “The Typewriter” and “Sleigh Ride” in my head. I was fortunate to attend a Pops concert many many years ago. It’s etched in my memory forever.

  2. Webb-Deane-Stevens Museum

    June 30, 2014 at 12:11 pm

    Some of us have a greatest hits CD of Anderson’s music which is loads of fun to have on while cooking with friends…

  3. Pingback: Take a Sleigh Ride with the Boston Pops - New England Historical Society

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