Roger Williams (pianist)
Williams in 1958.
|Birth name||Louis Weertz|
October 1, 1924|
Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.
|Died||October 8, 2011
Encino, California, U.S.
|Website||Roger Williams homepage|
He was born to a Lutheran minister, the Rev. Frederick J. Weertz (1891–1980) and a music teacher, Dorothea Bang Weertz (1895–1985), in Omaha, Nebraska. The family moved to Des Moines, Iowa, before his first birthday. He first played the piano at age three. In high school he became interested in boxing, mainly at his father's insistence, and only returned to music after breaking his nose several times and sustaining several other injuries.
He majored in piano at Drake University in Des Moines, but claimed he was expelled for playing "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" in the practice room. Weertz entered the United States Navy and served in World War II. While still in the Navy, he earned a bachelor's degree from Idaho State College (now Idaho State University) in 1950. Afterwards, Weertz re-enrolled at Drake, where he earned his master's degree. He then moved to New York City to attend Juilliard, where he studied jazz piano under Lennie Tristano and Teddy Wilson.
Williams won a talent contest on Dennis James' television program, Chance of a Lifetime. He was heard by David Kapp, founder of Kapp Records. Kapp was so impressed that he signed the pianist, changing his name to "Roger Williams" after the founder of Rhode Island.
In 1955 Williams recorded "Autumn Leaves", the only piano instrumental to reach #1 on Billboard's popular music chart. It sold over two million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. It was the fourth #1 song of the "rock era," which unofficially began with the ascension of "(We're Gonna) Rock Around The Clock" by Bill Haley & His Comets into the top spot. In 1966 he had another Top Ten hit with the song "Born Free" from the motion picture soundtrack. His other hits include "Near You", "Till", "The Impossible Dream", "Yellow Bird", "Maria", and "The Theme from Somewhere in Time". Billboard magazine ranks him as the top selling piano recording artist in history with 18 gold and platinum albums to his credit. Williams was known as the "Pianist to the Presidents" having played for nine administrations beginning with Harry S. Truman. His last White House performance was in November 2008 for a luncheon hosted by First Lady Laura Bush.
His interest in the public stemmed from a boyhood experience in Des Moines, Iowa. After a piano concert by the Polish genius Ignacy Jan Paderewski, young Roger waited for 45 minutes outside in the freezing cold to meet his idol. When the pianist finally appeared it was to rush to a waiting automobile. "I didn't even get near enough to touch him or get an autograph," says Williams. "It was then and there I resolved that if ever I became famous I would never disappoint anyone who wanted to talk to me."
On his 75th birthday, Williams performed his first 12-hour piano marathon. He performed the marathon at Steinway Hall in New York City and the Nixon, Carter and Reagan Presidential Libraries. His Steinway & Sons "Gold Steinway" grand piano was on tour for public display and entertainment during 2007–2008.
In 2010 Roger Williams was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame. At that time, "Autumn Leaves" was the best-selling piano solo record of all time and the only one ever to top the Billboard charts.
Illness and death
In March 2011 Williams posted on his website that he had pancreatic cancer and that his doctors had told him they could not remove the tumor until chemotherapy shrunk it to an operable size. Williams said that he did not plan on canceling any upcoming concerts. He wrote: "What does it all mean? It means I'm in just one more fight — the fight for my life.. And this much I know, this old Navy boxing champion is going for broke. Just watch me!"
|This section requires expansion. (January 2011)|
- The Boy Next Door (Kapp KL-1003) - 1957
- It's a Big Wide Wonderful World (Kapp KL-1008) - 1958
- Roger Williams with Orchestra (Kapp KL-1012) - 1955
- Daydreams (Kapp KL-1031) - 1955
- Roger Williams Plays the Wonderful Music of the Masters (Kapp KL-1040) - 1956
- Roger Williams Plays Christmas Songs (Kapp KL-1042) - 1956
- Roger Williams Plays Beautiful Waltzes (Kapp KL-1062, KS-3000) - 1957
- Almost Paradise (Kapp KL-1063) - 1957
- Songs of the Fabulous Fifties (Kapp KXL-5000) (2-Record Set) - 1957
- Songs of the Fabulous Forties (Kapp KXL-5003) (2-Record Set) - 1957
- Songs of the Fabulous Century (Kapp KXL-5005) (2-Record Set) - 1958
- Till (Kapp KL-1081) - 1959
- Roger Williams Plays Gershwin (Kapp KL-1088) - 1959
- Near You (Kapp KL-1112) - 1958
- More Songs of the Fabulous Fifties (Kapp KL-1130, KS-3013) - 1959
- With These Hands (Kapp KL-1147, KS-3030) - 1959
- Christmas Time (Kapp KL-1164, KS-3164, MCA-536, MCA-15005)
- Always - Melodies That Will Live Forever (Kapp KL-1172, KS-3056) - 1960
- Songs of the Fabulous Forties - Part 1 (Kapp KL-1207, KS-3207) - 1960
- Songs of the Fabulous Forties - Part 2 (Kapp KL-1208, KS-3208) - 1960
- Songs of the Fabulous Fifties - Part 1 (Kapp KL-1209, KS-3209) - 1960
- Songs of the Fabulous Fifties - Part 2 (Kapp KL-1210, KS-3210) - 1960
- Songs of the Fabulous Century - Part 1 (Kapp KL-1211, KS-3211) - 1960
- Songs of the Fabulous Century - Part 2 (Kapp KL-1212, KS-3212) - 1960
- Temptation (Kapp KL-1217, KS-3217) - 1960
- Roger Williams Invites You to Dance (Kapp KL-1222, KS-3222) - 1961
- Yellow Bird (Kapp KL-1244, KS-3244) - 1961
- Songs of the Soaring '60s - Vol. 1 (Kapp KL-1251, KS-3251) - 1961
- Roger Williams at Town Hall (Kapp KXL-5008) (2-Record Set) - 1961
- Greatest Hits (Kapp KL-1260, KS-3260) - 1962
- Maria (Kapp KL-1266, KS-3266) - 1962
- Mr. Piano (Kapp KL-1290, KS-3290) - 1962
- Country Style (Kapp KL-1305) - 1963
- For You (Kapp KL-1336, KS-3336) - 1963
- The Solid Gold Steinway (Kapp KL-1354, KS-3354) - 1964
- By Special Request (Kapp KL-3. KS-3) - 1964
- Roger Williams Family Album of Hymns (Kapp KS-3395)
- Academy Award Winners (Kapp KL-1406, KL-3406) - 1964
- Roger Williams Plays the Hits (Kapp KL-1414, KS-3414) - 1965
- Summer Wind and Your Special Requests (Kapp KL-1434, KS-3434) - 1965
- Autumn Leaves - 1965 (Kapp KL-1452, KS-3452) - 1965
- I'll Remember You (Kapp KL-1470, KS-3470) - 1967
- Somewhere My Love (Kapp KS-3470) - 1967
- Academy Award Winners - Vol. 2 (Kapp KL-1483)
- Born Free (Kapp KL-1501, KS-3501, KTL-3501) - 1966
- Roger! (Kapp KL-1512, KS-3512) - 1967
- Golden Hits (Kapp KL-1530, KS-3530) - 1967
- By Special Request - Vol. 2 (Kapp KL-4, KS-4) - 1967
- Amor (Kapp KS-3549) - 1968
- The Impossible Dream (Kapp KS-3550) - 1968
- More Than a Miracle (Kapp KS-3550)
- Only for Lovers (Kapp KS-3565) - 1968
- Happy Heart (Kapp KS-3595) - 1969
- The Piano Magic of Roger Williams (Columbia Musical Treasuries P2S-5306, P3S-5314) - 1969
- Roger Williams Plays Love Theme from Romeo & Juliet and Other Great Movie Themes (Kapp KS-3610, L3610)
- Golden Hits - Vol. 2 (Kapp KS-3638) - 1970
- Magic Moods - Roger Williams/Bert Kaempfert (MCA Special Markets DL-734729) - 1970
- Love Story (Kapp KS-3645) - 1971
- Summer of '42 (The Summer Knows) (Kapp KS-3650) - 1971
- Twilight Themes: 10 All-Time Favorites (Longines Symphonette Society - SYS5329, LS206C, LWS 640) - 1971
- Love Theme from "The Godfather" (Kapp KS-3665) - 1972
- Play Me: Love Themes from "Lady Sings the Blues" (Kapp KS-3671) - 1972
- The Roger Williams Showcase (Kapp KW-900)
- Roger Williams (MCA-324) - 1973
- Roger Williams Live (MCA-378) - 1973
- The Way We Were (MCA-403) - 1974
- Virtuoso (MCA-2175) - 1976
- Nadia's Theme (MCA-2237) - 1976
- The Best of Roger Williams (MCA2-4106, RCA Music Service R-243835) (2-Record Set) - 1976
- Evergreen (MCA-2279) - 1977
- Autumn Leaves: The Best of Roger Williams (Reader's Digest RDA-187) (8-Record Set) - 1979
- Golden Christmas (Holiday HDY-1927) - 1981
- 1970's (MCA2-4180) - 1983
- Today, My Way (Priority (Capitol) Records SL9323) - 1986
- The Great Love Songs (MCA Special Products 15074) (3-CD Set) - 1993
- Golden Christmas (Special Music Company SCD-4607) - 1993
- Sunrise Sunset (MCA, Pickwick SPC-3511)
- Spanish Eyes (MCA, Pickwick SPC-3367)
- Roger Williams & Ferrante and Teicher (Metro M-484)
- Born Free ... and Other Great Romantic Melodies (Longines Symphonette Society LS 206-A) (5-Record Box Set)
- Roger Williams' biography at mrpianotoday.com, retrieved September 20, 2007
- Nelson, Valerie J. (October 9, 2011). "Roger Williams dies at 87; 'Autumn Leaves' pop pianist found commercial success". Los Angeles Times. p. A43. Retrieved November 17, 2014.
- Roger Williams biography, grabow.biz, retrieved September 20, 2007
- Chance of a Lifetime, tvguide.com. Retrieved September 20, 2007.
- Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. pp. 77–78. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
- The Tiger, Clemson Agricultural College (Clemson, South Carolina), January 13, 1961, Volume LIV, Number 14, p. 1
- "Roger Williams Gold". Steinway & Sons Web Site. Archived from the original on October 8, 2011. Retrieved October 8, 2011.
- Lebrecht, Norman (October 9, 2011). "The Most Popular Pianist in History Is Dead". SlippeDisc. Retrieved November 17, 2014.
- Williams, Roger (March 2011). "A Special Note From Roger Williams". Retrieved October 9, 2011.
- Dennis Hevesi (October 8, 2011). "Roger Williams, Pianist Known for Sentimental Songs, Dies at 87". The New York Times.
- KABC notice of Williams' death
- Official website
- Roger Williams at the Internet Movie Database
- Roger Williams at AllMusic
- Text of resolution of Iowa legislature honoring Roger Williams
- Roger Williams page on Nebraska Music Hall of Fame site
- Roger Williams at Find a Grave