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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Andy Williams 1927-2012

He was known as "Mr. Christmas". And you can't possibly hear Henry Mancini's "Moon River" without thinking of him. Andy Williams may have been considered somewhat milk-toast by some, but regardless of that, he was was an example of someone who kept the traditional pop vocalist role alive just as rock and roll bands were taking over the mainstream limelight.

Andy Williams left us late last month after a brief battle with bladder cancer that began in 2011. He had been largely quiet for most of the past 30 years, his easy-listening style eventually shouted down by the new forms of popular music that were being born just as his career was also hitting its stride. But from the mid 1950s through the mid 1970s, he was without a doubt one of America's premiere practitioners of popular song.

The Williams Brothers
Williams actually got his start in the 1940s as part of a boy singing group with his brothers Bob, Don and Dick. They can be heard on Bing Crosby's hit 1944 recording of "Swingin' on a Star", and achieved major success after World War II touring with nightclub entertainer Kay Thompson, who had discovered the boys during her time as former head of vocal talent at MGM. They were among the first major Vegas attractions.

Despite a 20-year age difference, Andy and Kay became romantically involved, and by the 1950s, Andy had gone his separate way from his brothers. It was Kay's show-biz connections that helped kick-start his solo career in the mid 1950s, landing him a regular singing spot on the original Tonight Show with Steve Allen, as well as his first record contract.

Williams shared the same label as early rock 'n rollers like The Everly Brothers and The Chordettes, and even dabbled in a lot of teeny-bopper bubble gum pop during those years as well. However, he also cherished a great deal of traditional-style pop as well, and by the 1960s was one of America's top vocalists, just as the rock era was firmly entrenching itself as the mainstream in American music. Williams remained a unique aberration during those years, representing the last gasps of the old guard in a lot of ways.

He developed an interesting working relationship with composer Henry Mancini, regularly performing his songs at the Oscars, including "Moon River" and "Days of Wine and Roses". Although he never had hit singles with them, he did record them, and it was "Moon River" in particular with which he would become most identified for the rest of his career and life. It was also during the 1960s that Williams developed his deep friendship with Robert and Ethel Kennedy--Williams was with Kennedy when he was assassinated in 1968, and even sang at RFK's funeral.

Williams' heyday of the 1960s also saw him become a regular fixture on TV, a role for which he is still fondly remembered by so many--both the World War II generation who loved him for carrying the torch, and their baby boomer children who consider him something a kitsch reminder of their childhood. Williams' highly successful variety show ran through the 1960s and into the early 1970s. His beloved Christmas specials ran regularly into the mid 1970s, and even sporadically into the 1980s and 1990s. His recording of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" is a holiday staple.

More than anything, Andy Williams was a feel-good entertainer. He may not have had the artistic chops of other practitioners of popular song, or the respect of the musical elite, but he kept the tradition alive during an era that made singers like him seem progressively more "uncool" in the eyes of mainstream America. His warm, earnest voice will be greatly missed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing...

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