Emerson Buckley was born in New York City on April 14, 1914. He studied music at Columbia University, graduating at 22 and immediately accepting his first appointment, conductor of the Columbia Grand Opera. Other such posts, some in ballet and orchestral work, would follow over the next decade or so, but Buckley would eventually make Florida the base of his operations while maintaining ties in New York, where he often conducted at the New York City Opera. From 1950-1973, he was music director of the Miami Opera, and then served as artistic director and resident conductor there until 1986.
Buckley also guest-conducted during his Florida years at the Chicago Lyric Opera and served as conductor of the Seattle Opera from 1964-1975. With the premieres of Baby Doe in 1958 and the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Crucible in 1961, both at the New York City Opera, Buckley had become a major presence in the opera world.
In the latter years of his career Buckley began touring with Pavarotti, making particularly notable recordings of concerts given in China and Munich in 1986. Pavarotti in China (now on Kultur Video) featured Buckley and the tenor in repertory of Verdi, Puccini, Leoncavallo, and others, while the Munich disc (also Kultur Video) features more of the same kind of fare. Buckley died of emphysema at his Miami home on November 19, 1989.