From Pete Berg in Colorado Springs:
Tonight Show arranger and musician Tommy Newsom passed away from aggressive liver cancer Saturday evening around
6pm. He was 78. He was at home outside of Norfolk, VA, and his wife Pat was
at his side. Funeral services are pending. However, a celebration of his life
and music is being planned, most likely to take place in NYC sometime in the
Tommy Newsom’s Craddock High yearbook predicted the 1945
Portsmouth graduate would become a successful bandleader.
Millions of fans of The Tonight Show from the 1960s to early
’90s would attest to how right the prediction was.
Newsom’s formal musical training began with piano lessons
at the age of eight. When his father gave him a second-hand
saxophone, he discovered a natural aptitude for the instrument.
He learned to play without lessons.
As a teen, he played in the high school band and orchestra
and played sax in the Dave Parker band – a local Big-Band
of the 1940s. He earned degrees from the Norfolk Division,
College of William & Mary, Peabody Conservatory and Columbia
University. As a serviceman, he played with the Air Force
Newsom began his professional music career in New York City,
playing sax at the Taft Hotel with Vincent Lopez, in the television
orchestra for the Merv Griffin Show, and on tour with Benny
He joined The Tonight Show in 1962, rising from band member
to Assistant Music Director, and gaining renown across America
as favored straight man to Johnny Carson’s deadpan humor.
The Tonight Show received five Emmy awards during Newsom’s
years with the show.
Tommy Newsom arranged and composed music for Skitch Henderson,
Woody Herman, Beverly Sills, Kenny Rogers, Charlie Byrd, John
Denver and other performers. His awards include National Outstanding
Jazz Musician and a Cleo Award for his American Airlines radio