Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Late Great Andy Williams

Legendary crooner Andy Williams died on 25 September 2012 at the age of 84. The cause was bladder cancer.

Andy Williams was born on 3 December 1927 in Wall Lake, Iowa.  The family would later move to Cincinnati, Ohio. It was in 1938 that young Andy Williams and his three older brothers (Bob, Don, and Dick) formed a singing group, The Williams Brothers. The Williams Brother performed on the radio station WHO in Des Moines, Iowa. Later they performed on WLS in Chicago and WLW in  Cincinnati. It was in 1943 that The Williams Brothers relocated to Los Angeles, California. The Williams Brothers appeared in the films  Janie (1944), Kansas City Kitty (1944), Ladies' Man (1947), and Something in the Wind (1947). They also performed with Bing Crosby on the song "Swinging on a Star" in 1944.  From 1947 to 1951 they appeared as part of a nightclub act with Kay Thompson. Kay Thompson and The Williams Brothers would record two singles: in 1948  "Jubilee Time" and "Louisiana Purchase." Unfortunately, neither charted.  The Williams Brothers broke up as a singing group in 1951, but they would reunite each year on Andy Williams' Christmas specials starting in 1962 until well into the Nineties.

Andy Williams began his solo career in 1954, recording for RCA's Label X.  Unfortunately, his early songs did not make the charts. It was in 1954 that Andy Williams became a regular performer on Tonight (then hosted by Steve Allen) and appeared on the show until 1957. It was in 1955 that he signed with Cadence Records. The combination of appearing on Tonight and switching record labels seems to have helped Mr. Williams' career immensely. He had his first hit with "Canadian Sunset," which went to #7 on the Billboard singles chart in 1956. The following year he would have his first #1 record with "Butterfly." From 1956 through to the end of the Fifties, Andy Williams would have ten singles that reached the top Forty. In the Fifties he would also appear frequently on television. In 1957 he had his own summer series, The Andy Williams and June Valli Show. He would have two more shows in the Fifties: The Chevy Showroom Starring Andy Williams in 1958 and another series, The Andy Williams Show, in 1959. He also appeared on The Steve Allen Plymouth Show, The Big Record, The Patrice Munsel Show. The Dick Clark Show, The Pat Boone-Chevy Showroom, The Garry Moore Show, American Bandstand, The Dinah Shore Show, and Perry Como's Kraft Music Hall.

The start of the Sixties would begin with Andy Williams' recording career in a bit of a lull. From 1960 to 1962 only three of his singles out of ten hit the top forty, and those that did hit the top forty barely did so. In 1961 Andy Williams switched labels again to Columbia. While the Sixties would get off to a slow start for Andy Williams, it would be his decade. In 1962 his album Moon River and Other Great Movie Themes would become the first to crack the top ten of Billboard's albums chart. Curiously, while "Moon River" would become forever identified with Andy Williams, it was never released as a single by him. In 1963 Andy Williams would have his first hit single in years, with "Can't Get Used to Losing You" going to #2 on the Billboard charts. He would go on to have eleven more top forty singles in the Sixties, including "Days of Wine and Roses," "A Fool Never Learns," "On the Street Where You Live," and      "Music to Watch Girls By." He had several albums that made the top ten on Billboard's albums chart.

Not only did Andy Williams have a successful recording career in the Sixties, but he appeared frequently on television. From 1962 to 1971 he was the host of The Andy Williams Show. His Christmas specials began airing annually in 1962 and lasted until 1993. He also appeared on the shows Tonight Starring Jack Paar, The Jack Benny Programme, Here's Hollywood, What's My Line, The Danny Kaye Show, The Danny Thomas Hour, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and Rowan & Martin's Laugh In. Andy Williams also tried his hand acting briefly in the Sixties. He appeared in an episode of The Dick Powell Theatre and the film I'd Rather Be Rich.

By the Seventies the music charts had become dominated by rock music and other genres, leaving little room for crooners. While Andy Williams continued to record and release singles, the last one to hit the top forty of the Billboard Hot 100 was "Speak Softly Love (Love Theme from The Godfather)" in 1972. His last top ten hit was  "(Where Do I Begin) Love Story" in 1972. He recorded seventeen albums between 1971 and 2007. Mr. Williams also continued to appear on television in the Seventies, on such shows as The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, The Merv Griffin Show, Donnie and Marie, Top of the Pops, Dinah, Wednesday at 8, America 2-Night, The Mike Douglas Show, and The Muppet Show.

From the Eighties into the Naughts Andy Williams appeared on such shows as The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Great Performances, Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, Into the Night, Vicki, Late Night with David Letterman, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Larry Sanders Show, As the World Turns, Tavis Smiley, and Strictly Come Dancing. In 1991 Andy Williams opened the Moon River Theatre in Branson, Missouri.

Andy Williams was one of the last of the crooners and definitely one of the best. He was certainly one of the most visible in the United States in the late Twentieth Century. He appeared frequently on television, not only on his own show, but quite frequently on other shows and TV specials. His Christmas specials became a holiday tradition for literally decades in the United States. In the last few decades I doubt there was many people who did not know who Andy Williams was.

If Andy Williams was a success, it was perhaps for two basic reasons. The first is that he had an incredible voice, one that could be described as "velvet." It was a voice that was not only pleasant, but one that could subtly convey emotions from amusement to anguish. The second is that he was very versatile. While identified as a crooner by most people, he could actually sing a wide array of songs. His best known song, "Moon River," was the gentle sort of American pop song one might expect a crooner to sing. "Can't Get Used to Losing You" was a somewhat humorous, broken hearted song. "Music to Watch Girls By" was very nearly rock 'n' roll, with a proto-heavy metal guitar riff featured prominently in the song. Andy Williams sang a wide array of songs in genres ranging from jazz to pop to country and did all of them well. It was that versatility when combined with his incredible voice that made Andy Williams unique.

No comments: