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|
Weertz 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.
Weertz 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.
Weertz won a talent contest on Dennis James' television program, Chance of a Lifetime. David Kapp, founder of Kapp Records, heard him, and was so impressed that he signed the pianist, giving him the professional name "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 US Presidential administrations, beginning with Harry S. Truman. His last White House performance was in November 2008 for a luncheon hosted by First Lady Laura Bush.
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.
Williams developed his particular attitude to his public from a boyhood experience in Des Moines, Iowa. After a piano concert by Ignacy Jan Paderewski, he waited for 45 minutes outside in cold weather to meet Paderewski. 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. It was then and there I resolved that if ever I became famous I would never disappoint anyone who wanted to talk to me."
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 died on October 8, 2011, one week after his 87th birthday. Williams was married twice. His first marriage produced three children. Both marriages ended in divorce.
|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)
- 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.
- Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. pp. 77–78. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
- "Roger Williams Gold". Steinway & Sons Web Site. Archived from the original on October 8, 2011. Retrieved October 8, 2011.
- The Tiger, Clemson Agricultural College (Clemson, South Carolina), January 13, 1961, Volume LIV, Number 14, p. 1
- Dennis Hevesi (October 8, 2011). "Roger Williams, Pianist Known for Sentimental Songs, Dies at 87". The New York Times.
- "Pianist Roger Williams dies of cancer at 87". Eyewitness News (KABC). 2011-10-08. Retrieved 2015-01-15.
- 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