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 ensemble plays an annual season at Carnegie Hall as well as performing on tour and on television.
Henderson led hundreds of recordings, winning a Grammy in 1963 for a recording of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. His most recent CDs included With a Song in My Heart: The Great Songs of Richard Rodgers, featuring vocalist Maureen McGovern and the Pops, and a duo recording with jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, on which Henderson played the piano.
Henderson was presented with the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal by the Smithsonian Institution in January; he received the Handel Medallion from the City of New York in 1997.
At Henderson's request, there will be no funeral. According to a spokesman for the Pops, the orchestra will continue its season as planned. The Pops' next concert, on November 11 at Carnegie Hall, is a Veteran's Day program featuring a rare performance of Marc Blitzstein's Airborne Symphony.