Known to tens of thousands as resident conductor of the Voice of Firestone program, first on radio and later a fixture of Monday night television, Howard Barlow came to celebrity after a history of performance applauded by critics. A capable composer and arranger, Barlow was largely self-taught as a conductor and was an indefatigable advocate for American music.
After his family moved from Ohio to Mount Carmel, IL, Barlow studied piano privately while learning on his own to play several other instruments. At age 18, he was sent to Colorado because of bronchial ailments. There he studied music in high school, earning his one and only lesson in conducting after he took over a choral class in the absence of the director and was rewarded with an afternoon's instruction. After attending the University of Colorado for one year, he transferred to Reed College in Oregon. Failing his graduating exam in literature, he accepted a scholarship to Columbia University in New York where he studied while completing his requirements for graduation from Reed.
In the decade beginning in 1917, Barlow led a number of choral ensembles in the New York area and, in July 1918, began an association with the McDowell Festival in New Hampshire. His good work there led to assignments with the League of Composers concerts and Barlow's founding of the American National Orchestra in 1923. Critic/composer Deems Taylor wrote approvingly of the venture, but his comments about the quality of players led the board of directors to disband the orchestra. While conducting at New York's Neighborhood Playhouse, Barlow was approached by an assistant to Arthur Judson, co-founder of CBS; on September 18, 1927, Barlow began a 15-year tenure as conductor of the Columbia Symphony. During this period, he was also engaged as a guest conductor by such orchestras as the Chicago Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, and Philadelphia Orchestra.
After serving also as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra from 1939 to 1942, Barlow moved to NBC as conductor of the Voice of Firestone, a program with a 21 percent audience share. He remained with the program until 1968, making the transition from radio to television. Following retirement from the program, Barlow taught at Western Connecticut State University.