The music of Leroy Anderson is firmly entrenched in American popular culture. Anderson was a composer of distinctive orchestral miniatures. Some have said he created a unique form of music. He described his music as concert music with a pop quality. His best-known work is undoubtedly Sleigh Ride, but also well- known are The Syncopated Clock (theme for CBS New York's The Late Show for over 25 years), The Typewriter, and Blue Tango. Mitchell Parish added lyrics to seven of his popular pieces; Belle of the Ball, Blue Tango, Forgotten Dreams, Serenata, Sleigh Ride, The Syncopated Clock and The Waltzing Cat. Alfred published in 2008 the Leroy Anderson Songbook that also includes songs from his 1958 musical Goldilocks.
Born on June 29, 1908, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of Swedish immigrants, Leroy grew up in a musical family. His father, who worked for the U.S. Postal service, played both mandolin and banjo, while his mother, who was a church organist, gave Leroy his first piano lessons. He received his B.A (magna cum laude) and M.A. in music from Harvard University, studying with composers Walter Piston and Georges Enesco. In the '30's he was active in the Boston area as an organist, conductor, arranger and double bass and tuba player. In 1931 he became director of the Harvard Band. His arrangements for the band caught the attention of the manager of the Boston Symphony who asked him to make a symphonic setting of Harvard songs and to conduct it at the Boston Pops Harvard Night.. Arthur Fiedler, music director of the Pops, was impressed with Anderson's work and encouraged him to write original compositions for the orchestra. The first of these pieces, Jazz Pizzicato, was an immediate hit when it was premiered in 1938. Anderson began providing the Pops with a stream of original pieces, "concert music with a pop quality," as the composer himself described his work.
A gifted linguist, Anderson pursued graduate studies at Harvard toward a Ph.D. in languages, uncertain about his future in music. Drafted into the Army in World War II, his proficiency in Scandinavian and Germanic languages enabled him to achieve the rank of captain and to attain the position of Chief of the Scandinavian Desk of Military Intelligence. It was while he was at the Pentagon that he composed The Syncopated Clock and Promenade. At the end of the war he declined an offer to become the assistant military attaché in Stockholm having decided to continue his career in music.
He then began orchestrating and arranging for Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops and the Pops continued to premier his works, among them Sleigh Ride~ Fiddle-Faddle, Serenata and Trumpeter's Lullaby. In 1950 he began recording his music for Decca Records with his own orchestra, hired by Decca for the recordings. His popularity as a composer was at an unprecedented high. Many of his new pieces received their first performances when Anderson recorded them. One of these was Blue Tango.
Blue Tango, became the "top single" of 1952. It was #1 on the Hit Parade for 22 weeks. Anderson's own recording of it earned him a gold record, which was unprecedented for an instrumental symphonic recording.
Though Anderson, best known for his short pieces he also wrote the music for the 1958 Broadway musical, Goldilocks, which starred Don Ameche and Elaine Stritch. Lyricists were Jean and Walter Kerr and Joan Ford. His one piece in a longer form was his 1953 Concerto in C for Piano and Orchestra. He withdrew this piece after conducting two performances, but the Anderson family allowed it to be published in 1988 and it has slowly gained in popularity since its release.
Anderson died of cancer in 1975 in Woodbury, Connecticut, his home of 25 years. His works, however, continue to be some of the most frequently performed pieces in the repertoires of symphonic pops orchestras and bands. Anderson himself arranged many of his pieces for band and small ensembles. Music students, as well as professional musicians, know, admire, and play Leroy Anderson's music. Although he wrote his music originally for symphonic orchestra, Leroy Anderson's compositions transcend musical boundaries. According to one critic, Sleigh Ride "almost certainly holds the distinction of having been recorded by a broader aesthetic range of performers than any other piece in the history of Western music."