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April 30, 2007

Emmy Winner Tommy Newsom Dies

Tonight Show saxophonist and assistant MD for 30 years

Portsmouth, VA - Two-time Emmy-winner Tommy Newsom, former longtime saxophonist and assistant music director for the Johnny Carson-era Tonight Show band, died Saturday. The Virginia native was 78.

As backup bandleader to the late-night staple's flamboyant Doc Severinsen, Newsom's markedly more subdued manner and consistently conservative suits jokingly earned him the nickname "Mr. Excitement" with Johnny Carson. 

He first joined the Tonight Show band in 1962 and retired in 1992 with Carson.

Prior to joining Tonight, the Air Force veteran toured internationally with Benny Goodman. He later joined NBC as a studio musician, playing with the Merv Griffen Show orchestra. NBC re-assigned him to the Tonight Show months before Carson arrived.

Newsom received Emmy awards for music direction on Night of 100 Stars in 1982 and the 40th Annual Tony Awards Show in 1986.  Plus, the Tonight Show garned five Emmys during his tenure.

He additionally released his own recordings, and composed and arranged music for a variety of others performers, such as Woody Herman, Kenny Rogers, and John Denver.

Newsom is a graduate of the College of William & Mary and the Peabody Conservatory of Baltimore. He earned a master's degree in music education from Columbia University as well.

His survivors include his wife of 50 years, Pat Hernansky Newsom, and daughter, Candace Liebmann.  His son, Mark Newsom, died in 2003.

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