(born Dec. 18, 1898, Cuthbert, Ga., U.S.—died Dec. 29, 1952, New York, N.Y.) U.S. pianist, arranger, and leader of one of the most influential big bands in jazz. Henderson formed a dance band in New York in 1923. The band soon distinguished itself in two ways: the engagement of Louis Armstrong as principal soloist placed greater emphasis on swinging improvisation and the arrangements by Henderson and Don Redman (1900–64) codified the roles of the sections within the ensemble to replace the collective improvisation of early jazz groups. Nearly all big bands subsequently followed their example. A poor businessman, he was forced to dissolve his band several times, but his arrangements played a key role in the success of Benny Goodman in the late 1930s and provided a template for much of the music of the swing era.
Learn more about Henderson, Fletcher (Hamilton, Jr.) with a free trial on Britannica.com.
While attending Wilberforce University he formed a band called the Collegians, which included Benny Carter and Rex Stewart. This band was later known as the Horace Henderson Orchestra and then as the Dixie Stompers. Henderson left the band to work with Sammy Stewart, then in 1928 organized a new band called the Collegians. Don Redman took over this band in 1931; Henderson continued to work as the band's pianist and arranger before leaving to work for his brother.
He arranged for many of the most important jazz musicians of the era, including his brother. Fletcher Henderson's book contained about as many of Horace's arrangements as of Fletcher's. Although Horace worked continually, led bands, arranged, recorded, and composed into the 1980s, and although he is considered by many the more talented and skilful of the Henderson brothers, Fletcher remained more popular and accomplished more in the field.
Among his better known clients for arrangements, in addition to his brother, were Charlie Barnet, the Casa Loma Orchestra, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Earl Hines, and Jimmie Lunceford. His best known arrangements are of his own "Hot and Anxious" and of "Christopher Columbus" (both for his brother).