Iowa History Daily: On December 19, 1957, Meredith Willson’s “The Music Man” opened on Broadway at the Majestic Theater kicking off a run of 1,375 performances of the musical based on Willson’s childhood in Mason City.
After a childhood spent in the seat of Cerro Gordo County, Willson went on to study at the Juilliard School (then Frank Damrosh’s Institute of Musical Art) and played the flute and piccolo as a member of John Phillip Sousa’s band. After a stint under Arturo Toscanini in the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, he headed out to California where he worked in radio as a musical director in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
As Willson gained notoriety as a composer for radio, tv, and film, he started work on his most well known work which he called “an Iowan’s attempt to pay tribute to his home state.” The resulting work “The Music Man” may have grown out of an uncredited writing collaboration with his older sister Dixie. Ready for the stage in 1957, the musical went on to win the first ever Grammy award for best Original Cast Album before being made into an iconic American film.
Willson’s legacy lives on in a variety of numbers he wrote, including the University of Iowa’s “Iowa Fight Song,” Iowa State’s “For I for S Forever,” and Mason City High School’s “Mason City, Go!” Iowa’s original River City, Mason City celebrates Willson through preservation of his boyhood home, the Music Man Square, and in the annual North Iowa Band Festival. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar