“To me, piano means Steinway.”
Lyle Russel "Skitch" Henderson (b. 1918 – 2005) was a pianist, conductor, and composer whose nickname "Skitch" came from his ability to "re-sketch" a song in a different key.
With his neatly trimmed Vandyke beard and friendly disposition, Mr. Henderson was a familiar personality to millions of Americans over a long career. He had shows of his own on radio and television, and made many guest appearances in the 1950's and 1960's on "To Tell the Truth" and other game shows.
He was also a mainstay of the Tonight show, conducting the studio band and swapping stories with Steve Allen beginning in 1954 and later with Johnny Carson. He devised the "Stump the Band" routine, in which members of the studio audience would suggest obscure song titles and challenge the band musicians to play the tunes.
Mr. Henderson was regarded as one of the best-traveled musicians on the scene. In addition to turns on the podium of the New York Philharmonic, he made appearances as a guest conductor of orchestras in San Diego, Minneapolis, and Stamford, Conn., and of quality pops orchestras in Virginia, Florida and Kentucky. He also conducted the Royal Philharmonic and the London Symphony overseas.
He received a 1963 Grammy Award for an album of selections from "Porgy and Bess," with the RCA Orchestra and Leontyne Price as the main soloist. "What's great about Skitch," fellow performer Marvin Hamlisch said, "is that he can move between any type of music. Now he does a lot of pop music, but he knows the repertoire of the classics as well as anyone. He's a consummate musician."
When asked where he got the name Skitch, he said it was given to him by Bing Crosby, who told him the public would never remember proper names like theirs. Crosby began to call him the Sketch Kid, which eventually derived to Skitch.
In 1998, he summarized his career for The Salt Lake Tribune, saying, "I've never had goals. I have worked and been lucky enough. If one trolley broke down, I was able to get on another that was running. Goals are dreams but they are seldom realistic."
Henderson died peacefully in his home in New Milford, Connecticut, in 2005.