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Leo Killion, Musical Composer


Leo Killion, well-known musical composer, was born on this date in 1908. He was born in Towner and grew up in Minneapolis, learning many Swedish folk songs along the way. He often wrote nonsense lyrics to go with the tunes he was hearing.

In 1939, Killion, along with Ted McMichael and John Milton “Jack” Owens, co-wrote The Hut Sut Song. Killion and McMichael composed the music, while Owens, known as the “Cruising Crooner”, wrote the lyrics. The song was published in 1941 by the Schumann Music Corporation, owned by Walter Schumann.

A fun little ditty, the song’s first line goes like this, “In a town in Sweden by a stream so clear and cool, a boy would sit and fish and dream when he should have been school.” The chorus, which continues the fun, goes “Hut-Sut Rawlson on the rillerah and a brawla, brawla soo-it,” and is repeated three times. The second verse explains the words in the chorus, “Now the Rawlson is a Swedish town, the rillerah is a stream, the brawla is the boy and girl, the Hut-Sut is their dream.”

The doubletalk, mock-Swedish serenade became a huge hit and was played by many of the big bands, including the Kay Kyser Orchestra, the Freddie Martin Orchestra and the Horace Heidt Orchestra. In 1941, the Merry Macs vocal group sang it in the movie San Antonio Rose. More than a decade later, The Hut Sut Song was featured in the World War II movie From Here to Eternity.

It was sung by many others, as well, including the Swing Era bands and Dinah Shore, Mel Torme and the Andrews Sisters. By mid-1941, there were already 13 recorded versions of The Hut Sut Song and over 150,000 pieces of the sheet music had sold. Even into the 1970s, The Hut Sut Song was in the top numbers, along with Moonlight Serenade and The Woodpecker Song. Killion also composed By-u By-o, performed by Woody Herman.

Though Killion is well known for his musical compositions, he was also a lawyer. He graduated from the University of Minnesota and the University of California-Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law.

After serving in the U.S. Navy aboard the liberty ship William Hume during World War II, Killion worked as a lawyer. He became a notable labor lawyer in California and was an early advocate of no-fault auto insurance for California.

Killion was 92 years old when he died on October 24, 2000.

By Cathy A. Langemo, WritePlus Inc.