The medal recognizes Henderson's contributions to American culture. It will be presented at a ceremony on January 29 at the Institution's Baird Auditorium. The program will include a performance by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra‹with Henderson as guest pianist‹and an interview of Henderson conducted by Smithsonian music historian Dwight Blocker Bowers.
"Skitch Henderson has played such a vital role in the story of our nation's music," Bowers said in a statement. "We are thrilled to have the opportunity to recognize his illustrious contribution to American music and culture."
Born Lyle Russell Cedric Henderson in Birmingham, England, Henderson began his career as a pianist in American saloons. In 1937, he played on an MGM promotional tour with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, and eventually joined the MGM music department. After playing piano for Bob Hope's Pepsodent Show, and serving in World War II, he became music director for NBC Radio and NBC Television, leading the Tonight Show band. In 1983, he founded the New York Pops, the city's first permanent symphonic pops orchestra.
The James Smithson Bicentennial Medal was created in 1965 in honor of the man who funded the creation of the Smithsonian Institution. Previous recipients have included Artie Shaw, Celia Cruz, Dave Brubeck, and Harold Prince.