Chapter Eternal: Award-Winning Conductor, Elliot Lawerence ’46 – U Penn
Elliot Lawrence, big band leader and award-winning conductor, passed into the Chapter Eternal July 2, 2021. Musically gifted from a very young age, he led a band in the 1940s and 50s, then had an award-winning career on Broadway and in Hollywood.
Musical Prodigy and Big Band Director
Lawrence began playing the piano at age three and started his first band at 12. He graduated high school at 16 and earned a music scholarship at the University of Penn, where he joined Pi Lambda Phi.
At Penn he formed a band that played college dances and football games. When they played swing versions of well-known Penn tunes at a football game at Franklin Field, they were an immediate hit. He said, “During World War II, the draft plucked so many men from local bands that there weren’t enough civilians to fill out the seats of orchestras. So I went around and talked to all the men in ROTC and put together a band.”
After college, the Elliot Lawrence Orchestra toured the United States from 1946 to 1954. From 1947–1949 the band was Billboard’s “campus choice” for best new orchestra. At the Paramount Theater in New York they played “Elevation,” which was later named one of the top 50 best jazz recordings of the 20th century by the Smithsonian Institution.
Tony and Emmy Award Winner
Lawrence won ten Emmy Awards, two Tony Awards and was nominated for his work with the musical production of Bye, Bye Birdie in 1953.
Lawrence composed music for television and movies including the films “Network” and “The French Connection.” He served as the music director of the Tony Awards from 1967 until 2013.
Lawrence was awarded the Big Pi from Pi Lambda Phi in 1950.