Henderson, Lyle Russell Cedric, 1st Lt

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Last Rank
First Lieutenant
Last Primary AFSC/MOS
M 0770-Airplane Pilot
Last AFSC Group
Primary Unit
1944-1945, Air Training Command
Service Years
1940 - 1945
First Lieutenant

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This Military Service Page was created/owned by A3C Michael S. Bell to remember Henderson, Lyle Russell Cedric, 1st Lt.

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Home Town
Last Address
New Milford, CT

Date of Passing
Nov 01, 2005
Location of Interment
Not Specified
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Not Specified

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 Unit Assignments
Aviation Cadet Flight SchoolChina-Burma-India (CBI)Air Corps Ferrying Command 8th Air Force
Air Training Command
  1943-1943, Aviation Cadet Flight School
  1943-1944, China-Burma-India (CBI)
  1943-1945, Air Corps Ferrying Command
  1944-1945, 8th Air Force
  1944-1945, Air Training Command
 Combat and Non-Combat Operations
  1941-1945 World War II4
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Last Known Activity
Bing Crosby gave Skitch his nickname, a shortening of the phrase "sketch kid," so called because of Skitch's ability to sketch out a musical score in different keys.
Posted by GAN Staff · December 16, 2005
Skitch Henderson, pilot and band leader, dies

Skitch Henderson, founder of the New York Pops, long-time “Tonight Show” band leader and World War II aviator, died Nov. 1 at his home in New Milford, Conn. He was 87.


Born in England, Lyle Russell Cedric Henderson moved to the U.S in the 1930s, eking out a living as a pianist, playing vaudeville and movie music in Minnesota and Montana. He got his big break in 1937, when he filled in for a sick pianist touring with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. When the tour wrapped up in Chicago he used the original pianist’s ticket and went to Hollywood, where his career was launched.

Already a private pilot, Henderson joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1940 and later, after becoming a U.S. citizen, the U.S. Army Air Corps. He served as a fighter pilot in the European and Pacific theaters.

His love of flying was life-long and passionate. He had a vast collection of aviation memorabilia at his home, which was something of an aviation museum. Until his death he was an active member of the Wings Club in New York.

Conductor Skitch Henderson Dies at Age 87
Nov 1 11:58 PM US/Eastern
New York Times
NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) - Skitch Henderson, the Grammy-winning conductor who lent his musical expertise to Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby before founding the New York Pops and becoming the first "Tonight Show" bandleader, died Monday. He was 87.

Henderson died at his home in New Milford of natural causes, said Barbara Burnside, director of marketing and public relations at New Milford Hospital.

Born in England, Lyle Russell Cedric Henderson moved to the United States in the 1930s, eking out a living as a pianist, playing vaudeville and movie music in Minnesota and Montana roadhouses.

He got his big break in 1937, when he filled in for a sick pianist touring with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. When the tour wrapped up in Chicago, he used the original pianist's ticket and went to Hollywood.

There he joined the music department at MGM and played piano for Bob Hope's "The Pepsodent Show." His friendship with Hope put him in touch with other stars of the day, including Crosby, who became a mentor to Henderson.

He studied with the noted composer Arnold Schoenberg, and Henderson's talented ear brought him renown from some of the era's most successful musicians.

"I could sketch out a score in different keys, a new way each time," Henderson said earlier this year.

That quicksilver ability earned him the nickname "the sketch kid," which Crosby urged him to adapt to "Skitch." It stuck.

During World War II, Henderson flew for both the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Corps. At his estate in New Milford, which he shared with his wife, Ruth, Henderson kept a collection of aviation memorabilia. Even at 87, he had said he hoped to fly the Atlantic once more.

After the war, Henderson toured as Sinatra's musical director and lived what he called a "gypsy lifestyle," touring the country with various bands. It was Sinatra's phone call that lured Henderson to New York.

"Frank said, 'I'm moving the "Lucky Strike Show" to New York. Get rid of those gypsies and get back here where you belong,'" Henderson recalled in 1985.

He served as musical director for the "Lucky Strike" radio show and "The Philco Hour" with Crosby. And when NBC moved to television, the studio brought Henderson along as musical director.

In 1954, NBC pegged him as the bandleader for Steve Allen's "Tonight Show," which brought Henderson into the nation's living rooms every night. Even as the hosts changed from Allen to Jack Paar to Johnny Carson, Henderson was a constant.

He founded the New York Pops in 1983, using popular tunes to make orchestral music exciting.

"People come to hear music that's accessible to them—old songs that are powerful and don't go away," he said.

Even in his late 80s, Henderson maintained a tireless work schedule as music director for the Pops, where he regularly served as conductor. He also was a frequent guest conductor at a number of orchestras around the world.

"I watch the public like a hawk. If I see boredom, I worry," Henderson said. "You can tell by the applause: There's perfunctory applause, there's light applause, and then there's real applause. When it's right, applause sounds like vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce."

Other Comments:

In 1983 he founded the New York Pops Orchestra, which makes its home at Carnegie Hall in New York City. He served as the music director and conductor of the orchestra until his death in 2005. Henderson also conducted numerous symphonic orchestras throughout the world.

His radio work included:


In a career at NBC spanning 1951 to 1966, he succeeded Arturo Toscanini as music director for NBC Television and was the original conductor of the orchestras for The Tonight Show and The Today Show.

Henderson served as the original bandleader for The Tonight Show with founding host Steve Allen (as well as for Allen's Sunday-night variety show), then came back to Tonight after the departure of host Jack Paar and his orchestra director José Melis. Henderson left Tonight again in 1966, during Johnny Carson's early years as host, and was replaced first by Milton DeLugg and then Henderson trumpeter Doc Severinsen, who headed the NBC orchestra until Carson's 1992 retirement.

"My father's early years are a mystery to everyone remaining on this earth. He was a very private man about his early past, and as it was obviously uncomfortable for him to discuss it (presumably because it was not a happy childhood), no one I know ever pressed him to reveal more than the little he volunteered. I can only pass on what he told us about himself, and I have not done any independent research to verify the truth of any of this.

The little he told his family about his childhood is this: He was born in England, was taken as a child by his father to the U.S. Raised by various friends and relatives, notably Hatty Gift, supported himself from the age of 12 playing piano in roadhouses and brothels around Minnesota and Montana.

He volunteered for the RAF when war broke out in Europe, and then transferred to the USAF when America joined the war. He flew in Europe, Africa and Burma, and was a flight trainer in the U.S. He had many friends and contacts in the military, several of whom discussed their shared experiences in the war with him in my presence, and we also have remembrance letters from pilots who served with him or were trained by him. There was an implication that he did secret work (e.g. picking up important Germans at the end of the war in Europe), so perhaps this explains a lack of documentation - I would be VERY surprised to learn the whole military side was fabricated.

He said he hadn't had a passport, and his military documents were lost when his duffle was stolen on the trip home from the war. So his aunt got a U.S. birth certificate made up by having a local judge certify that he was born in Minnesota. I personally would love to get proof he was actually British, as that would then apparently allow me to get dual citizenship with a UK passport myself..."

"LT. LYLE HENDERSON VISITING IN HALSTAD... Second Lt. Lyle Henderson arrived in Halstad on Wednesday for a short visit here at the Floyd Gift home, with his brother Ernest Henderson and other friends and relatives. Lt. Henderson is flying a plane from Chicago to California, and stopped over enroute. He has been working as a Flights Plans Instructor at Merced Field, near Santa Monica, California, and while awaiting orders for an overseas assignment, has been engaged in ferrying planes. Lyle, or Skitch, as he has come to be known, has made quite a name for himself in the musical world, and to radio audiences , having worked on the Bob Hope Show with Skinny Ennis' band and with Andre Kostelanetz. Before induction into the Air Corps he served as musical conductor and pianist with NBC in Hollywood. As many will also recall he also made a guest appearance on the Ginny Simms show from Hollywood last year. Halstad is proud to welcome their local boy who made good, but regret that his visit must necessarily be so short, since he must report back to his field in California next Monday evening."

From Stuart Woods

"Skitch and I were neighbors in Connecticut during the latter part of his life, and Hans's description of how he got an American birth certificate rings true. Skitch and I both loved flying, but he had sold his airplane when he felt he was too old to fly, so I took him with me on a flight to Chicago, where I was making a book appearance, returning the next day, so we had seven or eight hours to chat while flying. Skitch told me that he was born in England and came to the U.S. as a child, and that he had served in the RAF as a fighter pilot, though he never saw combat. He also told me of how Bing Crosby had saved his life. Crosby was in England during the war and invited Skitch to a dinner that included an American general. Crosby spoke highly of Skitch as a pilot, and he prevailed upon the general to have Skitch transferred to the Army Air Corps, given his American connections, and assigned as his personal pilot. Skitch felt that he would likely have died in combat, if he had continued to fly Spitfires and felt he owed Crosby his life for his intervention. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Stuart Woods (talkcontribs) 21:06, 25 August 2008 (UTC)"



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