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The University of Iowa Libraries

Guide to the Meredith Willson Papers

Collection Overview

Date Span: 1948-1957
Creator: Willson, Meredith (1902-1984)
Extent: .50 linear feet.
Collection Number: MSC0731
Repository: University of Iowa Special Collections
Summary: Writer, musician, composer, and lyricist, best known for The Music Man. Manuscript drafts from his books, a script from The Music Man, and sheet music.

Alternate Extent Statement: Photographs: Box 1; Record: Box 1

Access: This collection is open for research.

Use: Copyright restrictions may apply; please consult Special Collections staff for further information.

Acquisition: This collection was donated to the University of Iowa Libraries in 1952 by Mr. Willson.

Preferred Citation: Meredith Willson Papers, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa.

Repository: University of Iowa Special Collections
Address: Special Collections Department
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City, IA 52242
Phone: 319-335-5921
Curator: Greg Prickman

Meredith Willson (1902-1984), author, musician, composer, lyricist, and librettist, made his home town of Mason City, Iowa, famous in his Broadway musical, The Music Man, which he based on his own memories and town lore. As a child, Willson took the obligatory piano lessons and played the flute and piccolo in the high school band. After graduation he left for New York and the Institute of Musical Art (now the Juliard School). At nineteen, he became a member of John Philip Sousa's famous band. Five years later, he joined the New York Philharmonic, then under the direction of Arturo Toscanini. From there he traveled to the West coast where he served as a musical director, first with the American Broadcasting Company and then the National Broadcasting Company. In that capacity he became an active composer, at times writing more than a dozen musical programs each week. He also scored films for Hollywood, including Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator. During World War II, Willson headed the musical division of the Armed Forces Radio Services. At war's end, he turned his talent to network radio and television work. In 1949, the Meredith Willson Show debuted.
Meredith Willson's greatest success came in 1957, with the Broadway musical The Music Man. He wrote the book, music and lyrics for this Tony award winning show, which earned him both an Oscar for the movie version and the first Grammy ever presented for best album. Willson went on to write three other Broadway shows: Here's Love, 1491, and The Unsinkable Molly Brown, which was also made into a movie musical. He authored five books, including the autobiographical And There I Stood with My Piccolo. Willson is remembered for his popular tunes such as May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You as well as the boisterous Iowa Fight Song which he wrote in 1950.
Mason City's favorite son died at the age of eighty-two.

The papers of Meredith Willson consist of 0.5 linear feet of his manuscripts and musical compositions. Arranged alphabetically by title and dating from 1948 to 1957, they include the typescript of his autobiographical novel, And There I Stood with My Piccolo and a publisher's typescript of his book, Who Did What to Fedalia?, as well as a final script of The Music Man. There is sheet music for three songs relating to Iowa, including the Iowa Fight Song.

Browse by Series:
Series 1: GENERAL
Series 2: 2003 ADDENDUM
Series 3: 2008 ADDENDUM
Series 4: 2010 ADDENDUM

  • Series 1: GENERAL
  • Box 1:
  • And There I Stood with My Piccolo - 1948
    First typescript with revisions
  • Iowa
    Holograph sheet music
  • Iowa, Phonograph record
    In Oversized Box 1
  • Iowa Fight Song
    Holograph sheet music
  • Iowa Indian Song
    Sheet music with holograph revisions
  • The Music Man. Final script, September 23 - 1957
  • What Every Young Musician Should Know. New York: Robbins Music Corporation - 1938
  • Who Did What to Fedalia?
    Publisher's typescript with corrections and revisions
  • Series 2: 2003 ADDENDUM
  • Box 1:
  • Biographical information
  • Clippings
  • Letter and postcards
    Letter to Karl Goedecke; 1 to Abe Meyer; 2 to Viv and Mac McCracken; 1 postcard to the McCrackens; 1 postcard to Abe Meyer. 1 Happy Chanuka card with no addressee
  • Series 3: 2008 ADDENDUM
  • Box 1:
  • Citations
  • Clippings: The Iowa Fight Song
  • Clippings: Miscellaneous
  • Clippings: The Music Man
  • Photographs: Willson at the Rose Bowl
    Print and negative
  • Programs and playbills: Radio and television shows featuring Willson - 1937-1959
  • Series 4: 2010 ADDENDUM
  • Box 1:
  • Leoma
    Holographic sheet music with words. Written for Helen Leoma Riha. Includes a photograph of her shortly after her marriage to Lee Wulff. Gift of her son and daughter-in-law, Barry and Ella May Wulff. In Oversized Box 1