Before there was Kevin Eubanks, or Doc Severenson even, there was Skitch Henderson. The "Tonight Show" bandleader died this week at the age of 87.
He also worked with Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Judy Garland–all of them. After leaving Johnny Carson’s "Tonight Show," he founded the New York Pops.
All my life growing up in Hillsboro, I heard that Skitch Henderson was born in Halstad, Minnesota. And all my life, I’ve heard Skitch Henderson say in interviews he was born in England. Most of his obituraries this week state that he was born in Birmingham, England. And yet, other biographies give his birthplace as Halstad.
Dick King (of Dick King’s Classic Swing Band) tells me it’s true–that he was born in Halstad. He says he knew Henderson’s mother, a piano teacher, who "made him practice" as a boy. Dick remembers Skitch Henderson playing piano in dance bands throughout North Dakota and Minnesota and for radio stations like WDAY and KFYR in Bismarck.
Much later in life, Dick got to know Skitch when his daughter lived near him on the East Coast. He still has several arrangements Henderson gave him and which the Classic Swing Band still uses.
Why Skitch would claim England over Halstad as his birthplace we may never know.