Greg Poppleton

21 May - Hear 1940s Jazz Harpsichord on this week's Phantom Dancer LISTEN

18 January 2022

(Until 18 January)

Meredith Willson from Sousa to Swing – Phantom Dancer 18 Jan 22

Greg Poppleton's Phantom Dancer swing jazz radio show

Meredith Willson, this week’s Phantom Dancer feature artist, was a piccolo and flute virtuoso who played in John Philip Sousa’s band, the New York Philharmonic under Arturo Toscanini, composed popular music and 3 Broadway shows including ‘The Music Man’, was a two time Academy Award nominee, wrote three books and conducted the Armed Forces Radio Service Orchestra during WW2.

LISTEN to this week’s Phantom Dancer mix (online after 2pm AEST, Tuesday 18 January) and two years of Phantom Dancer mixes online at, at

I’m Greg Poppleton, The Phantom Dancer producer and presenter every week on 107.3 2SER radio Sydney since 1985.

Watch Meredith Willson on Garry Moore’s “I’ve Got A Secret” (March 25, 1963) as he conducts a chorus of people chosen from the New York City phone book whose names spell out the words to the 19th century song, ‘In The Good Old Summer Time’.


Willson was a flute and piccolo virtuoso. He become a member of John Philip Sousa‘s band (1921–1924) and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini (1924–1929). 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 on-air radio debut came on KFRC in 1928 on Blue Monday Jamboree.


Willson’s work in films included the score for Charlie Chaplin‘s The Great Dictator (1940) (Academy Award nomination for Best Original Score), and arranging music for the score of William Wyler‘s The Little Foxes (1941) (Academy Award nomination for Best Music Score of a Dramatic Picture).


During World War II, Willson worked for the United States’ Armed Forces Radio Service. His work with the AFRS teamed him with George BurnsGracie Allen, and Bill Goodwin. He worked with all three as the bandleader, and a regular character, on the Burns and Allen radio program. He played a shy man always trying to get advice on women. His character was ditzy as well, basically a male version of Allen’s.

In 1942, Willson had his own program on NBCMeredith Willson’s Music was a summer replacement for Fibber McGee and Molly. Sparkle Time, which ran on CBS in 1946–47, was Willson’s first full-season radio program.

Returning to network radio after WWII, Willson created the Talking People, a choral group that spoke in unison while delivering radio commercials. In 1950 he became the musical director for The Big Show, a 90-minute comedy-variety program hosted by actress Tallulah Bankhead and featuring some of the world’s best-known entertainers.

Willson became part of one of the show’s very few running gags, beginning replies to Bankhead’s comments or questions with “well, sir, Miss Bankhead”. He wrote the song “May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You” for the show. Bankhead spoke the lyrics over the music at the end of each show. He also worked on Jack Benny‘s radio program, and hosted his own program in 1949. For a few years in the early 1950s, Willson was a regular panelist on the Goodson-Todman game show The Name’s the Same; he recalled later that he did the show for the steady Goodson-Todman salary, which he was saving toward his Broadway musical project.

In 1950, Willson served as musical director for The California Story, California’s centennial production at the Hollywood Bowl. Working on this production, Willson met writer Franklin Lacey, who proved instrumental in developing the storyline for a musical Willson had been working on, soon to become The Music ManThe California Story was followed by two more state centennial collaborations with stage director Vladimir RosingThe Oregon Story in 1959 and The Kansas Story in 1961.


Willson’s most famous work, The Music Man, premiered on Broadway in 1957, and was adapted twice for film (in 1962 and 2003). He called it “an Iowan’s attempt to pay tribute to his home state”. It took Willson eight years and 30 revisions to complete the musical, for which he wrote more than 40 songs.

The show was a resounding success, running on Broadway for 1,375 performances over three and a half years. The cast recording won the first Grammy Award for Best Original Cast Album (Broadway or TV). In 1959, Willson and his second wife Ralina “Rini” Zarova recorded an album, … and Then I Wrote The Music Man, in which they review the history of, and sing songs from, the show. In 2010, Brian d’Arcy James and Kelli O’Hara played Willson and Rini in an off-Broadway entertainment based on this album.

Willson’s second musical, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, ran on Broadway for 532 performances from 1960 to 1962 and was made into a 1964 motion picture starring Debbie Reynolds. His third Broadway musical was an adaptation of the film Miracle on 34th Street, called Here’s Love. Some theater buffs recall it as a quick failure, but it actually enjoyed an eight-month run on Broadway in 1963-64 (334 performances). His fourth, last, and least successful musical was 1491, which told the story of Columbus’s attempts to finance his famous voyage. It was produced by the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera in 1969, but not on Broadway.


Willson’s Symphony No. 1 in F minor: A Symphony of San Francisco and his Symphony No. 2 in E minor: Missions of California were recorded in 1999 by William T. Stromberg conducting the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra. Other symphonic works include the O.O. McIntyre SuiteSymphonic Variations on an American Theme and Anthem, the symphonic poem Jervis Bay, and Ask Not, which incorporates quotations from John F. Kennedy‘s inaugural address. In tribute to the Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts (ISOMATA), Willson composed In Idyllwild for orchestra, choir, vocal solo and Alphorn. Willson’s chamber music includes A Suite for Flute.


In 1964, Willson produced three original summer variety specials for CBS under the title Texaco Star Parade. The first premiered on June 5, 1964, and starred Willson and his wife Rini. It featured guest stars Caterina Valente and Sergio Franchi, and a production number with Willson leading four military bands composed of 500 California high school band members.

The second special starred Debbie Reynolds singing selections she had introduced in Willson’s production The Unsinkable Molly Brown. On July 28, Willson and Rini hosted the third special, which featured a Willson production number with 1,000 Marine Corps volunteers from Camp Pendelton. Guest stars were Vikki CarrJack JonesFrederick Hemke, and Joe and Eddie.


Meredith Willson wrote a number of well-known songs, such as “You and I”, a No. 1 hit for Glenn Miller in 1941 on the Billboard charts. It was also recorded by Bing Crosby, and by Tommy Dorsey with Frank Sinatra on vocals.

Three songs from The Music Man have become American standards: “Seventy-Six Trombones“, “Gary, Indiana”, and “Till There Was You“, originally titled “Till I Met You” (1950).

Other popular songs by Willson include “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” (published as “It’s Beginning to Look Like Christmas”), “May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You“, and “I See the Moon“. He wrote the University of Iowa‘s fight song, “Iowa Fight Song“, as well as Iowa State University‘s “For I for S Forever”. He also wrote the fight song for his hometown high school “Mason City, Go!” He honored The Salvation Army with a musical tribute, “Banners and Bonnets”.

An oddity in Willson’s body of work is “Chicken Fat“, written in 1962. In school gymnasiums across the nation, this was the theme song for President John F. Kennedy’s youth fitness program.

In 2014, a re-recording of “Chicken Fat” was used in a television commercial for the iPhone 5S.[19]

In 1974, Willson offered another marching song, “Whip Inflation Now”, to the Ford Administration, but it was not used.


Willson wrote three memoirs: And There I Stood With My Piccolo (1948), Eggs I Have Laid (1955), and But He Doesn’t Know the Territory (1959).

Here’s ’76 Trombones’ from the 1962 movie, ‘The Music Man’


Play List – The Phantom Dancer
107.3 2SER-FM Sydney
LISTEN ONLINECommunity Radio Network Show CRN #527

107.3 2SER Tuesday 18 January 2022
12:04 – 2:00pm (+11 hours GMT) and Saturdays 5 – 5:55pm
National Program
5GTR Mt Gambier Monday 2:30 – 3:30am
3MBR Murrayville Monday 3 – 4am
4NAG Keppel FM Monday 3 – 4am
2SEA Eden Monday 3 – 4am
2MIA Griffith Monday 3 – 4am
2BAR Edge FM Bega Monday 3 – 4am
2BRW Braidwood Monday 3 – 4am
2YYY Young Monday 3 – 4am
3VKV Alpine Radio Monday 6 – 7pm
7MID Oatlands Monday 6 -7pm
6GME Radio Goolarri Broome Tuesday 12am – 1am
2MCE Bathurst Wednesday 9 – 10am
1ART ArtsoundFM Canberra Friday 10 – 11am
2ARM Armidale Friday 12 – 1pm
5LCM Lofty FM Adelaide Friday 1 – 2pm
Denmark FM (West Australia) Saturdays 10 – 11am
Repeat: Wednesdays 10 – 11pm
7LTN Launceston Sunday 5 – 6am
3MGB Mallacoota Sunday 5 – 6am
3BBR West Gippsland Sunday 5 – 6pm

Set 1
1940s Swing Radio
Open + It’s Been So Long
Randy Brooks Orchestra
‘One Night Stand’
Roseland Ballroom NYC
AFRS Re-broadcast
14 Jul 1945
I’ll Be Around
Sonny Dunham Orchestra (voc) Pat Cameron
‘One Night Stand’
Cafe Rouge
Hotel Pennsylvania NYC
AFRS Re-broadcast
14 Apr 1944
Holiday for Strings + Lady Be Good
Lucky Millinder Orchestra (piano) Sir Charles Thompson
‘One Night Stand’
Savoy Ballroom NYC
AFRS Re-broadcast
17 Jul 1945
Set 2
Middle of the Road Christmas
Open + Let It Snow
Dinah Shore
‘Dinah Shore Show’
24 Dec 1954
Happy Christmas Little Friend
Dinah Shore
‘Dinah Shore Show’
24 Dec 1954
We Three Kings + Gloria in Excelsior Deo + Close
Unidentified Choir
‘Music America Loves’
AFRS Re-broadcast
24 Dec 1944
Set 3
1937-39 Radio
Theme + Shoot the Sherbert to Me, Herbert
Bob Chester Orchestra (voc) Kathleen Lane
Mayfair Restaurant
Hotel van Cleve
Dayton OH
WJSV CBS Washington DC
22 Sep 1939
Midnight in a Madhouse
Larry Clinton Orchestra
Rockin’ in Rhythm + East St Louis Toodle-oo (theme)
Duke Ellington Orchestra
Cotton Club
WOR Mutual NYC
18 Mar 1937
Set 4
Meredith Willson
I’ve a Strange New Rhythm in My Heart + With a Song in My Heart
Intro and Outro by Louis B Mayer. Meredith Willson Orchestra (voc and tap dance) Eleanor Powell
‘Good News of 1938’
Dec 1937
Intro + Happy Wedding Day
Meredith Willson Orchestra (voc) Cast + Bing Crosby
‘Command Performance USA’
Dick Tracy in Bb
AFRS Hollywood
Whose Dream Are You? + Who’s That Knocking at My Door?
Meredith Willson Orchestra (voc) Dinah Shore, Bing Crosby, Harry von Zell, Jerry Colonna
‘Command Performance USA’
Dick Tracy in Bb
AFRS Hollywood
Medley: For You, Make Believe Island, Every Little Movement, Somrthing Goes Ting-a-Ling, Raggedy Fool, Do You Remember?
Meredith Willson Orchestra
‘At Ease’
AFRS Hollywood
Set 5
Tommy Dorsey
I’m Getting Sentimental Over You (theme + On The Sunny Side of the Street
Tommy Dorsey Orchestra (voc) The Sentimentalists
‘One Night Stand’
400 Restaurant NYC
AFRS Re-broadcast
30 Sep 1945
Song of India
Tommy Dorsey Orchestra
‘Spotlight Bands’
Blue Network
12 Feb 1945
So What? + Close
Tommy Dorsey Orchestra
Meadowbrook Ballroom
Cedar Grove NJ
11 Feb 1941
Set 6
Cocoanut Grove Vocal Trios
You’re The Surest Cure for the Blues
The Three Ambassadors (voc) Gus Arnheim Orchestra
Radio Transcription
Cocoanut Grove
Down Among the Sleepy Pines
The Three Cheers (voc) Jimmy Grier Orchestra
Radio Transcription
Cocoanut Grove
Take It From Me
The Three Ambassadors (voc) Gus Arnheim Orchestra
Radio Transcription
Cocoanut Grove
I Know You’re Lying But I Love It
The Three Cheers and Gogo Delys (voc) Jimmy Grier Orchestra
Radio Transcription
Cocoanut Grove
Set 7
Glenn Miller
Theme + Here We Go Again + White Cliffs of Dover
Glenn Miller Orchestra
‘Sunset Serenade’
27 Dec 1941
String of Pearls
Glenn Miller Orchestra
‘Uncle Sam Presents’
Radio Transcription
Feb 1944
Oh So Good
Glenn Miller Orchestra
‘Sunset Serenade’
27 Dec 1941
Don’t Be That Way
Glenn Miller Orchestra
‘Uncle Sam Presents’
Radio Transcription
Feb 1944
Set 8
Modern Jazz
C Jam Blues
International All Stars
Comm Rec
Los Angeles
Dec 1947
Boyd Raeburn Orchestra
Palace Hotel
KQW CBS San Francisco
27 Jul 1945
Theme + Jordu
Stan Getz Quartet
‘Bandstand USA’
Red Hill Inn
Pennsauken NJ
18 May 1957
All Gigs
12:04 pm - 2:00 pm
2SER 107.3 Sydney

Available now! Get your copy


Keep in touch with the monthly newsletter