‘Popcorn’ composerGershon Kingsley

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Born in Germany as Goetz Gustav Ksinski, Kingsley fled — by himself — days before turning 16, and days before the Nazis started the November Pogroms, attacking Jews. Settling temporarily in what is now Israel, Kingsley studied at the Jerusalem conservatory of music. When his parents and brother arrived in the United States eight years later, he rejoined his family, but as a musician, he did not regret that he was born in Germany. “I am glad I was born in Germany and partook of German culture,” he said in a 2010 interview, “because whether you’re talking about Beethoven, Goethe or Wagner, it’s unique in the history of humankind.” Though, he said of the Nazis, “It’s impossible to understand what happened to the German collective soul for so many years.”

Kingsley working with his Moog Modular (undated, from his web site).

As a musician, Kingsley worked in New York theater, orchestrating music for plays and conducting, and garnering a Tony Award nomination for Best Conductor and Musical Director. In the 1960s, he became interested in electronic music, in particular the Moog synthesizer, partnering with Jean-Jacques Perrey. Their first album, The In Sound from Way Out! (1966) is notable for its tune “Baroque Hoedown”, which became the theme song for the “Main Street Electrical Parade” at Disneyland. He went solo in 1969 with Music to Moog By, which also had a groundbreaking tune: “Popcorn” — although it didn’t become a hit until one of the keyboardists he worked with recorded a cover version under the band name “Hot Butter”, selling millions. “Popcorn is a classical melody, it could easily be incorporated into a Bach piece,” Kingsley said later. “It’s so transparent — it’s like why you can’t change a Mozart melody. It took me five minutes.” But, he added, “I could never do it again.” By then, Kingsley was 50 years old. “When I went to pick up my first golden record in Germany,” he laughed, “they said to me ‘You wrote Popcorn?’” He went on to record many more albums, but lamented, “On my gravestone it will say ‘The composer of Popcorn’.” He earned two Clio Awards for his work in advertising music, two Obie awards for his off-Broadway work, an Emmy award, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Bob Moog Foundation. Kingsley died in New York on December 10, at 97.

The original “Popcorn” and the original “Baroque Hoedown”

From This is True for 15 December 2019