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Meredith "The Music Man" Willson
Birth: May 18, 1902
Mason City
Cerro Gordo County
Iowa, USA
Death: Jun. 15, 1984
Santa Monica
Los Angeles County
California, USA

Conductor, Composer, Songwriter, and Playwright. He is best remembered for writing the book, music and lyrics for the hit Broadway musical "The Music Man" that was adapted into the 1962 musical film starring Robert Preston and the 2003 American television film by the same name. Born Robert Meredith Willson in Mason City, Iowa his father was a lawyer and his mother a primary school teacher and piano tutor. He attended Frank Damrosch's Institute of Musical Art (later The Juilliard School) in New York City, New York. A flute and piccolo player, from 1921 until 1923 he was a member of John Philip Sousa's band and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Arturo Toscanini from 1924 until 1929. He then moved to San Francisco, California, as the concert director for radio station KFRC, and then as a musical director for the NBC radio network in Hollywood. His film work included composing the score for Charlie Chaplin's "The Great Dictator" (1940) which received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score, and arranging the music for the score of William Wyler's "The Little Foxes" (1941) which received an Academy Award nomination for Best Music Score of a Dramatic Picture. During World War II he worked for the US Armed Forces Radio Service, teaming with George Burns, Gracie Allen and Bill Goodwin. He would work with all three as the bandleader, and a regular character, on the Burns and Allen radio program, playing a shy man who was always trying to get advice on women. His character was dizzy as well, basically a male version of Gracie Allen's character. After World War II he returned to network radio and created the Talking People, a choral group that spoke in unison while delivering radio commercials. He also became the musical director for "The Big Show," a prestigious comedy-variety program hosted by actress Tallulah Bankhead and featuring some of the world's most respected entertainers, and wrote the song, "May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You" for the show. He also worked on Jack Benny's radio program, and hosted his own program in 1949. In the early 1950s he was a regular panelist on the Goodson-Todman game show "The Name's the Same." In 1950 he served as musical director for "The California Story," the state's centennial production at the Hollywood Bowl. Through working on this production, he met writer Franklin Lacey who proved instrumental in developing the story line for a musical he had been working on, soon to be known as "The Music Man." In 1957 "The Music man" premiered on Broadway and he referred to the show as "an Iowan's attempt to pay tribute to his home state". It would take him eight years and 30 revisions to complete the musical, for which he wrote more than forty songs. Three songs from "The Music Man" have become American standards, "Seventy-Six Trombones," "Gary Indiana," and "Till There Was You." In May 1959 the cast recording of "The Music Man" won the first Grammy Award for Best Original Cast Album (Broadway or television). His second musical, "The Unsinkable Molly Brown," ran on Broadway for 532 performances from 1960 until 1962 and was made into the 1964 film by the same name starring Debbie Reynolds. He followed this in 1963 with "Here's Love," an adaptation of the 1947 film "Miracle On 34th Street" and "1491," his last and least successful musical which told the story of Christopher Columbus's attempts to finance his famous voyage. In 1964 he produced three original summer variety specials for CBS under the title "Texaco Star Parade." His classical works include "Symphony No. 1 in F Minor: A Symphony of San Francisco" and "Symphony No. 2 in E Minor: Missions of California." He also wrote a number of very well known songs, such as "You and I," which was a Number 1 for Glenn Miller in 1941 on the Billboard charts, "May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You" (1950), "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" (1951), and "I See the Moon." He wrote the University of Iowa's fight song "Iowa Fight Song," and Iowa State University's "For I for S Forever". He wrote the autobiographies "And There I Stood With My Piccolo" (1948), "Eggs I Have Laid" (1955) and "But He Doesn't Know the Territory" (1959). He died of heart failure in Santa Monica, California at the age of 82. In June 1987 he was posthumously presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to radio. He was a brother to children's author Dixie Willson. (bio by: William Bjornstad) 
 
Family links: 
 Parents:
  John David R. Willson (1866 - 1931)
  Rosalie Eliza Reiniger Willson (1860 - 1931)
 
 Spouses:
  Rini Zarova Willson (1912 - 1966)*
  Rosemary Patricia Sullivan Willson (1921 - 2010)*
 
 Siblings:
  Lucille Reininger Willson Lampert Hayden (1890 - 1974)*
  John Cedric Rex Willson (1900 - 1975)*
  Meredith Willson (1902 - 1984)
 
*Calculated relationship

Cause of death: Heart failure
 
Burial:
Elmwood Saint Joseph Cemetery
Mason City
Cerro Gordo County
Iowa, USA
Plot: Greenwood section, on the western side of the cemetery, just a few rows N of the road.
 
Maintained by: Find A Grave
Record added: Apr 28, 1999
Find A Grave Memorial# 5218
Meredith The Music Man Willson
Added by: Ron Moody
 
Meredith The Music Man Willson
Added by: Gary Thelen
 
Meredith The Music Man Willson
Added by: Gary Thelen
 
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Thank you for your contributions to Broadway musicals. The Music Man was one of my favorites. May you rest in peace.
- William Bjornstad
 Added: Aug. 19, 2014
You and John Philip Sousa were my life in the 40's and 50's and I still enjoy the the all American music you made. Don't know how many times I have watched "Music Man" on stage, theater and in my home now due to dvd's and cd's being invented. Thank you so...(Read more)
- Letta Rae
 Added: Jul. 21, 2014

- Ryan Curtis
 Added: Jul. 8, 2014
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