Howard Andrew Williams (1927-2012) was an American popular music singer. He recorded forty-four albums in his career, fifteen of which have been gold-certified and three of which have been platinum-certified. He was also nominated for six Grammy Awards. He hosted The Andy Williams Show, a television variety show, from 1962 to 1971, and numerous TV specials. The Andy Williams Show garnered three Emmy awards. The Moon River Theatre in Branson, Missouri, is named after the song he is most known for singing—Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini’s “Moon River.” He sold more than 100 million records worldwide, including 10.5 million certified units in the United States.
Williams had three older brothers—Bob, Don, and Dick Williams. His first performance was in a children’s choir at the local Presbyterian church. He and his brothers formed the Williams Brothers quartet in late 1938, and they performed on radio in the Midwest, first at WHO, in Des Moines, Iowa, and later at WLS, in Chicago, and WLW, in Cincinnati.
Moving to Los Angeles in 1943, the Williams Brothers sang with Bing Crosby on the hit record “Swinging on a Star.” They appeared in four musical films.
Williams’s solo career began in 1953. He recorded six songs for RCA Victor’s label “X”, but none of them were popular hits. After finally landing a spot as a regular on Tonight Starring Steve Allen in 1954, Williams was signed to a recording contract with Cadence Records, a small label in New York run by conductor Archie Bleyer. His third single, “Canadian Sunset” reached No. 7 in the Top Ten in August 1956, and was soon followed by his only Billboard No. 1 hit, “Butterfly,” in 1957. More hits followed, including “The Hawaiian Wedding Song,” “Are You Sincere?” “The Village of St. Bernadette,” “Lonely Street,” and “I Like Your Kind of Love.”
In 1961, Williams married Claudine Longet, moved to Los Angeles, California, and signed with Columbia Records. Williams first album with Columbia, Danny Boy and Other Songs I Love to Sing, was a chart success, peaking at No. 19. He was then asked to sing “Moon River,” the theme from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, at the 1962 Academy Awards, where it won Best Original Song. Archie Bleyer at Cadence had previously told Williams that “Moon River” would not be a hit, but the Columbia producers encouraged Andy to record the song along with eleven other movie themes for an album. After Williams performed the song at the awards show, it became a hit.
From 1962 to 1972, Williams became one of the most popular vocalists in the country and was signed to what was at that time the biggest recording contract in history. He was primarily an album artist, and at one time he had earned more gold albums than any solo performer except Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis and Elvis Presley. By 1973 he had earned as many as seventeen gold album awards.
Among his hit albums from this period were The Andy Williams Christmas Album, Dear Heart, The Shadow of Your Smile, Love Story, and Love Theme from the Godfather. These recordings, along with his natural affinity for the music of the 1960s and early 1970s, combined to make him one of the premier easy listening singers of that era.
Fast forward to June 1991: Williams’ brother Don invited him to the small Ozarks town of Branson, Missouri. Don Williams at the time was the manager for entertainer Ray Stevens, who had just opened a theatre in Branson. While attending Stevens’ show, Williams was encouraged by numerous Branson guests to open a venue in the town. This led Williams to build his own theatre in Branson in time for the 1992 season, eventually opening on May 1, 1992 as the Moon River Theatre. The name came from his signature song. It went on to become the first theatre ever to be featured in Architectural Digest, and also won the 1992 Conservation Award from the State of Missouri.
On May 3, 1991, Williams married Debbie Meyer, whom he met through a mutual friend. They made their homes at Branson, Missouri and La Quinta, California, where he was known as the “honorary mayor.” Williams was a noted collector of modern art and his homes have been featured in Architectural Digest.
In a surprise appearance at his theater in November 2011, Williams announced that he had been diagnosed with bladder cancer. After chemotherapy treatment in Houston, Texas, he and his wife moved to a rented home in Malibu, California in order to be closer to cancer specialists in the Los Angeles area.
On September 25, 2012, Williams died of bladder cancer at the age of 84 at his home in Branson, Missouri. The memorial service for Williams was held a month later.
Among the films that Claudine Longet starred in was The Party from 1968. In the movie Claudine played aspiring actress Michèle Monet and sang the soundtrack “Nothing to Lose” written by Henry Mancini and Don Black. Of the soundtrack, Don Black replied to this publisher’s inquiry with, “ ‘Nothing to Lose’ happens to be one of my favorite songs. It brings back so many memories of the late and great Hank Mancini.”
Andy Williams was the voice that defined the 1960s for most of America.
Known by many titles but ultimately known as Mr. Moon River
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Grammy Awards host.
Andy, 1966 Publicity photo.
Andy, 1969 Publicity photo.
ABOVE IMAGES FROM WIKIPEDIA
Wall Art Print entitled A “SONG FOR YOU”: Andy Williams by David Lloyd Glover. Size: 11 x 14.