- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2007

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (AP) — Tommy Newsom, the former backup bandleader on “The Tonight Show” whose “Mr. Excitement” nickname was a running joke for Johnny Carson, died April 28 of cancer at his Portsmouth home. He was 78.

Mr. Newsom, who played saxophone, joined “The Tonight Show” in 1962 and rose from band member to assistant music director. He retired along with Mr. Carson in 1992.

“The Tonight Show” received five Emmy Awards during Mr. Newsom’s years on the show, and Mr. Newsom won music direction Emmys for “Night of 100 Stars” in 1982 and the 40th annual Tony Awards Show in 1986.

“I hope he will be remembered as a gifted musician,” his nephew, Jim Newsom, said yesterday. “I’m sure he will be remembered for his wit and deadpan humor on ‘The Tonight Show.’ And to some of us a certain age, he will always be remembered as Mr. Excitement.”

That was the nickname Mr. Carson gave Mr. Newsom to make light of his low-key personality and drab brown and blue suits — a sharp contrast to the flashy style of bandleader Doc Severinsen.

Not long after the Carson era ended, Mr. Newsom remarked that his image as an ordinary guy was “fairly accurate — compared to Rambo.”

“I realize things have to end sometime,” Mr. Newsom said at the time. “I felt regrets at it ending, and there was a sense of relief in a way.”

Along with his work on “The Tonight Show,” Mr. Newsom arranged and composed music for Skitch Henderson, Woody Herman, Beverly Sills, Kenny Rogers, Charlie Byrd, John Denver and other performers.

Thomas Penn Newsom was born in Portsmouth. He got his first horn for Christmas at age 8 and was able to play melodies by ear from the beginning.

He played in bands at Cradock High School and the Norfolk Division of the College of William & Mary — a junior college that later became Old Dominion University — before receiving his bachelor’s degree in music education from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore in 1952.

Mr. Newsom toured with Airmen of Note, the U.S. Air Force’s premier jazz ensemble, during a four-year enlistment before earning a master’s degree at Columbia University. He toured the Soviet Union and South America with Benny Goodman in the early 1960s and played in “The Merv Griffin Show” orchestra before landing his gig on “The Tonight Show.”

After leaving “The Tonight Show,” Mr. Newsom moved back to Portsmouth. In 2002, he was among the first inductees in Norfolk’s Legends of Music Walk of Fame.

Jim Newsom recalled asking his uncle how it felt to see his name engraved on a star embedded in the sidewalk and getting the kind of self-deprecating reply that fans had come to expect.

“The first time I saw it,” Jim Newsom recalled his uncle saying, “there was a piece of gum on it.”

Tommy Newsom is survived by his wife of 50 years, Patricia H. Newsom; and daughter, Candy Newsom of Teaneck, N.J.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide