Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Slatkin studied violin at the Curtis Institute with Efrem Zimbalist, and conducting with Fritz Reiner. Joining the St Louis Orchestra at the age of 17, the War years saw him conduct the Army Air Force Tactical Command Orchestra, which raised over $100 million for the War Bond drive.
After the War, he joined the Twentieth Century Fox Orchestra as leader, and can be seen in the Prologue to the film How to Marry a Millionaire. His Hollywood String Quartet recorded 20 LPs for Capitol, winning a Grammy Award for their late Beethoven recordings.
As conductor of the Concert Arts Orchestra & Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, he made 25 recordings, including another Grammy-Award winner, Rosenthalís Gaite Parisienne. He also appeared as violinist on many records with Frank Sinatra, who admired his playing very much. Sadly his career ended at the early age of 47. His son is the distinguished conductor Leonard Slatkin.