Erich Kunzel, Jr. (March 21, 1935 – September 1, 2009) was an orchestra conductor and longtime leader of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra. Kunzel was born to German-American immigrant parents in New York City but raised in Connecticut. At Greenwich High School in Connecticut, he arranged music and played the piano, string bass, and timpani. Initially a chemistry major, Kunzel graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in music, then studied at Harvard and Brown universities. Early in his career, he conducted for the Santa Fe Opera and studied at the Pierre Monteux School. From 1960 to 1965, he conducted the Rhode Island Philharmonic. From 1965 to 1977, Kunzel served as resident conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.
When the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra board of trustees created the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra (CPO) in 1977, Kunzel was named conductor. His popular recordings of classical music on the Telarc label were mostly made as director of the CPO. During this time he was leader of the 8 o'clock popular concert series. He also made jazz recordings with Dave Brubeck and Duke Ellington. Kunzel also conducted the National Symphony Orchestra in televised concerts every Memorial Day and every Fourth of July until he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Since then Erich Kunzel's efforts made the "Pops" into an internationally known ensemble with half a dozen best-selling recordings a year and almost weekly subscription concerts. Once a major contender to succeed Arthur Fiedler at the Boston Pops, his popular recordings of classical music, Broadway musicals, and movie scores topped worldwide crossover charts more than any other conductor or orchestra in the world. The Cincinnati Pops are particularly popular in Asia, where they have toured several times. In 1984, Kunzel expanded the Pops program to include a summer concert series at a newly-built Riverbend Music Center.
In April 2009, Kunzel was diagnosed with pancreatic, liver and colon cancer and received chemotherapy treatments in Cincinnati. He died September 1, 2009 at Bar Harbor, Maine, near his home at Swan's Island.