In 1881, Henry Lee Higginson, the founder of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, wrote of his wish to present in Boston "concerts of a lighter kind of music." The Boston Pops Orchestra was founded to present this kind of music to the public, with the first concert performed in 1885. Called the "Promenade Concerts" until 1900, these performances combined light classical music, tunes from the current hits of the musical theater, and an occasional novelty number. Allowing for some changes of taste over the course of a century, the early programs were remarkably similar to the Boston Pops programs of today.
The Boston Pops Orchestra did not adopt its own official conductor until 1930, when Arthur Fiedler began a fifty-year tenure as the Pops conductor until he retired in 1980. Fieldler's career as the conductor of the Pops brought worldwide acclaim to the orchestra. He was unhappy with the reputation of classical music as being solely for elite, aristrocratic, upper-class audiences. Fiedler made efforts to bring classical music to wider audiences. He instituted a series of free concerts at the Esplenade, a riverside public park alongside the Charles River. Along with his insistence that the Pops Orchestra would play popular music alongside well-known classical pieces, Fiedler opened up a new niche in popular culture that encouraged popularization of classical music. Other cities have founded their own "pops" orchestras, but the Boston Pops remains the most famous and well-known.
After Fiedler retired in 1980, the conductorship of the Boston Pops was taken over by Academy Award-winning composer John Williams. Williams continued the Pops' tradition of bringing classical music to a wider audiences, and he added his own considerable library of well-known movie soundtracks (including the Star Wars and Indiana Jones movies) to its repertoire.
The conductor's baton was passed once again in 1993, with the mantle of the Pops conductor being assumed by up-and-coming conductor Keith Lockhart. Lockhart continues to conduct the Boston Pops today, adding a touch of flamboyance and a flair for the dramatic to his performances.