Carmen Dragon

Carmen Dragon was a noted composer, arranger and conductor. He was born July 28, 1914 in Antioch, California to a family of Italian heritage. He died in Los Angeles on March 28, 1984. According to his obituary in the New York Times, by his teens he had learned to play the piano, string bass, accordion, trumpet and trombone. He went to elementary and high school in Antioch and attended San Jose College.

He began composing even before he went to college. The Oakland Tribune article from February 18, 1930, shown below, mentions a composition of his called “Forward, Antioch!” that was to be performed by his high school orchestra, although it erroneously refers to Dragon as being a high school girl.

An arrangement he did came to the attention of Meredith Willson, who would go on to compose such musicals as “The Music Man” and “Unsinkable Molly Brown.” Willson introduced Dragon to the film business. By the 1950s, Dragon had been working in films, composing and arranging for over a decade. He shared an Academy Award in 1944 with Morris Stoloff for their work on the musical “Cover Girl” staring Rita Hayworth and Gene Kelly. He had also begun to work heavily in radio and served as the musical director for a number of programs.

Dragon was an early conductor of one of the orchestras that went by the names Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra. Generally staffed from the large pool of studio musicians in the area, the groups have been known for giving pops-style concerts in the Hollywood Bowl venue. Dragon conducted the group for ten years. While he was conductor, the orchestra performed on a radio broadcast known as the Standard School Broadcast. Funded by the Standard Oil Company (now Chevron), these programs were geared to introduce young students to music and American history. Dragon also hosted a regular program of classical music for the Armed Forces Network, now known as the American Forces Network.

Over the years, he conducted over four dozen recordings of orchestras with which he was associated, including the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, the Capitol Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Dragon died of cancer after being hospitalized at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, California. He was survived by his wife and five children, several of whom were musicians.

Some of his arrangements are available on his website, carmendragon.com.

His arrangement of “America the Beautiful” has become a standard performance piece for bands, choirs and orchestras across the country. Dragon did a number of arrangements of this familiar patriotic piece, including one for full orchestra and another for choir and orchestra. The concert band arrangement was debuted an a music conference in Ohio in 1960, conducted by Dragon himself, and performed by the Ohio State University concert band. This particular arrangement was published in 1963. Fortunately, the 1960 concert band performance was recorded, preserved and is available in the link below.

“America the Beautiful” – Youtube.

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