Born: May 18, 1902 Died: June 15, 1984
Active in music since the early '20s, songwriter, bandleader, and multi-instrumentalist Meredith Willson is best-known for his Broadway scores for The Music Man (1957) and The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1960), and as the composer of the holiday standard "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas." Born in Iowa in 1902, Willson went to a music school in New York in addition to studying with a private tutor. During the early '20s, Willson became the flute and piccolo soloist in John Philip Sousa's concert band and toured the U.S. and Central and South America with them. From the mid- to late '20s, he performed in the New York Philharmonic and starting in the 1930s, worked as a music director in San Francisco radio. While on the West Coast, Willson scored two films -- The Great Dictator (1940) and The Little Foxes (1941) -- in addition to his work in radio and television. He also served in the military for a time during WWII. Willson started hosting his own radio show in the mid-'40s and had a smash hit in 1950 with his closing theme song, "May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You," which went on to sell a million copies. He also found great success with his first Broadway musicals; he won a Tony Award and was named Showman of the Year (by the Broadway Historical Society) for 1957's The Music Man. His follow-up musical, The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1960), was also incredibly successful, although 1963's Here's Love was less so. Willson's better-known songs include "You and I," "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," "It's Easter Time," "I See the Moon" (which was popular with American G.I.s in Korea), and The Music Man hits "76 Trombones," "Till There Was You," and "Trouble." He also wrote two autobiographies: And There I Stood With My Piccolo and But He Doesn't Know the Territory.