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Stokowski, Leopold

Stokowski, Leopold

Born in 1882


Inducted in 1998

Leopold Stokowski had a unique hold on the attention and affection of the American public, in large part because he was the first eminent musician to recognize the enormous potential of recordings, broadcasting and the movies, and to exploit them brilliantly to reach an ever broader audience. Born in London to a Polish father and an Irish mother, Stokowski learned piano and organ as a boy and at 13 became the youngest student ever admitted to the Royal College of Music. In 1902 he became organist at St. James's Church in Piccadilly, where he organized choral, symphonic and operatic performances; two years later he made his conducting debut during intermission at a London theater. The rector of St. Bartholomew's Church in New York heard Stokowski and St. James's and brought him to his church as organist and choirmaster. Three years later, in 1908, Stokowski left that post to launch his conducting career. Stoskowski was engaged by Lucien Wulsin, and made his Cincinnati debut in November 1909. Stokowski began recording with the Philadelphians in 1917 and never stopped. He involved the orchestra in three Hollywood films: The Big Broadcast of 1937, 100 Men and a Girl and the unforgettable Fantasia, which he actually conceived jointly with Walt Disney, beginning with the idea of an animated-cartoon treatment of The Sorcerer's Apprentice. In 1940 he formed the New York-based All-American Youth Orchestra, with which he toured South American and made several recordings. After that he was instrumental in forming the New York City Symphony, he was music director of the Hollywood Bowl for two summers, he shared the NBC Symphony with Toscanini for two years, and the New York Philharmonic with Dimitri Mitropoulos and others for three. After serving briefly as conductor of the Houston Symphony, he formed the still flourishing American Symphony Orchestra, again in New York, with which he gave the historic premiere of Ives's Fourth Symphony in 1965. When he turned 90 Stokowski returned to England to live, and continued to record with the big London orchestras for various labels. On his 95th birthday he signed a contract with CBS Records (today's Sony) that was to run for five years, but he died just five months after the signing, leaving behind him an unparalleled legacy of memories, recordings, and heightened awareness on the part of musicians and the public alike.