Any one of the staff or volunteers at Mason City’s Music Man Square will tell you that the appreciation of Meredith Willson and his music are very much alive and well. They see it every day as visitors from all over the world come to tour Willson’s birth place and boyhood home, as well as the interactive museum which showcases the importance of music in Willson’s life, as well as all of American culture.
Willson was born and raised in Mason City in 1902. He grew up and followed his dreams to New York where he studied at what is now Julliard School of Music and performed with John Sousa’s band as well as the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Willson was a composer, songwriter, flutist, conductor and playwright, best known for writing the book, music and lyrics for the hit Broadway musical “The Music Man”. He wrote three other Broadway musicals, composed symphonies, many popular songs, and his film scores were twice nominated for Academy Awards. He was (and still is) a pretty big deal.
Recently, several of Willson’s works have made their way into the 21st century. While serving as host of the 68th Annual Tony Awards in June, actor Hugh Jackman (X-men, Les Misérables, The Prestige) referenced trying out for “The Music Man” musical in his high school days… and then he started rapping the show’s opening song “Rock Island”. Soon he was joined by rappers LL Cool J and T.I. in a modern-day rendition, posing the question – Did Mason City’s Meredith Willson create the first rap? (The performance can be found on YouTube at http://bit.ly/1lr25QN)
Apple has also tapped into the many works of Meredith Willson, using the 1961 fitness anthem “Chicken Fat” to market the newest iPhone to Baby Boomers. (View the new commercial at http://slate.me/1oaihGE).
Meredith Willson was a TRUE musician. He will, without a doubt, live on in Mason City, Iowa as “The Music Man of River City,” but it’s wonderful to see that his wide-range of famous melodies are still being remembered and appreciated throughout the world.