Luther Henderson Scholarship Fund

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There comes a time in the process of one’s awakening one seeks to do loving service. And so it is with Billie Allen-Henderson who wishes to provide musical scholarships and mentoring to young music students in the name of her late husband, composer/arranger Luther Henderson.  With the support of the Juilliard School (Luther’s alma mater), and Ari Guzelimian, the Dean of Juilliard, Governor David Paterson and his wife Michelle Paige Paterson, dancer Savion Glover, director George C. Wolfe, Leslie Uggams, Phylicia Rashad, David Dinkins, Charles Rangel, the Canadian Brass, Nancy Wilson and a host of friends and supporters, Billie’s fundraising initiative is to be launched on Monday, October 6, 2008 at 6:30 p.m., via a benefit concert gala entitled “Spreadin’ Rhythm Around: A Celebration of The Life and Music of Luther Henderson.”  The gala concert in honor of Mr. Henderson and the Luther Henderson Scholarship Fund, will take place at The Juilliard School’s Peter Jay Sharp Theater, located at 155 W. 65th Street, NYC.

Well known for his rhythmic syncopation of Broadway, mastery in orchestration, arranging and musical directorship, the twice Tony Award nominated Henderson worked on over 50 musicals, including serving as music director for Aint Misbehavin’ whereby he adapted the music of Thomas “Fats” Waller.  Henderson received Tony nominations for Best Musical Score in Jelly’s Last Jam and Best Orchestration for the show “Play On.”  He composed the orchestrations for dance numbers in Broadway’s “Flower Drum Song,” and arranged over 100 songs during his lengthy association with The Canadian Brass.  Luther Henderson also scored the orchestral works of Duke Ellington and taught jazz courses at Juilliard. He won the Jazz Masters Award and the Pioneer Award with wife, Billie Allen-Henderson.

“Working with this fundraising project has been exciting.  It is a venture that I have consumed with passion. And now finally, it’s happening,” stated Billie Henderson enthusiastically.  “We expect a full house and a wonderful show.  I am envisioning this as a launch with our first scholar being announced.  We are not just giving these students money to go to school. We are  going to mentor the student(s) into a profession, introduce them to important orchestras and allow them to meet the powers behind Broadway shows,” continued the talented dancer, actress, and director. 
Ms. Henderson discussed the participation of both Linda Twine (Color Purple) as music director and award winning director/producer, George C. Wolfe, whose film “Nights in Rodanthe,” which stars Richard Gere and Diane Lane, will be released later this month. “The gala benefit show is being directed by George,” explained Billie.  “You may recognize his work: Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk; Jelly’s Last Jam; Lackawanna Blues; Top Dog/Underdog; The Colored Museum and many other works in film and on Broadway.  George is graciously co-hosting an invitation only salon with me at his home on Sunday, October 5th, where guests will have food, music, conversation and of course the opportunity to support the fundraiser,” said the Broadway pioneer who has worked with the likes of Elia Kazan, Ethel Waters, Lee Strasberg, Godfrey Cambridge, Ruby Dee, Samuel L. Jackson, Lou Gossett, Lincoln Kilpatrick and Phil Silvers, etc.

The Luther Henderson Scholarship Fund was something both Billie and Luther discussed before his passing.  “Luther didn’t have the benefit of a scholarship when he attended Juilliard.  He wanted to do this but died before it came to fruition,” said Billie whose sense of humor gave her the fortitude needed to forge ahead with the project, assured it would one day manifest.

"I use humor with the most serious events in my life," commented Billie.  "I find humor in things.  I remember when Luther was passing. He was in the hospital and told me he was really tired.  He said, "I am really tired now.  I want to go but I don’t know how to die." I thought to myself, here is the moment. I had read all the books and now all of a sudden I am faced with this.  I replied: “Ask God.  He’ll help you.  Just relax.”  Luther repeated he was tired and again I replied. “You have done everything you came here to do.  When you have completed your journey then you leave this place and go onto the next journey." I assured him that the kids and I were alright.    I said, “You’ve just finished your big project.  So why not go. Don’t be tired.  Rest!  Let go and embrace it.”  I felt him balancing on the threshold of death.  He would almost go but then he'd come back.  He voiced his tiredness again.  I felt his frustration so I said.  "You know…let me tell you something…you never did know how to leave a party.  The hostess is standing up there with her nightgown over her arm.  Everyone has gone home.  The caterer is gone and the host has already gone to bed and you are still standing there saying good-bye.  I get in the elevator and go down to the lobby where I wait for you and yet you're still upstairs saying goodbye," continued the bemused actress.  "I told Luther:  'Listen, when the party is over, you leave.'”  Luther roared with laughter.  All the bells went off because he was hooked up to the monitors.  The nurse came and asked what was going on but neither one of us could stop laughing.  Luther tried to answer the nurse but couldn't because he was laughing so hard.  All he could do is point at me as we shared that great laugh together," said Ms. Henderson, imparting to me the most poignant moment a husband and wife could share as their time together neared its end.  "Luther left shortly after that," remembered Billie who now seeks to keep Luther's memory alive through the Luther Henderson Scholarship Fund.

Interested parties seeking to support the Luther Henderson Scholarship Fund can obtain info and  purchase tickets at (212) 247–8705 or e-mail [email protected]

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