Howard Andrew "Andy" Williams (December 3, 1927 – September 25, 2012) was an American singer. He recorded 43 albums in his career, of which 15 have been gold certified and three platinum certified. He was also nominated for six Grammy Awards. He hosted The Andy Williams Show, a television variety show, from 1962 to 1971, along with numerous TV specials. The Andy Williams Show won three Emmy awards. The Moon River Theatre in Branson, Missouri, is named after Henry Mancini's and Johnny Mercer's "Moon River", which Williams recorded. He sold more than 45 million records worldwide, including more than 10 million certified units in the United States.
Williams was active in the music industry for over 70 years until his death in 2012.
Early life and education
Williams was born in Wall Lake, Iowa, to Florence (née Finley) and Jay Emerson Williams, who worked in insurance and the post office. While living in Cheviot, Ohio, Williams attended Western Hills High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. He finished high school at University High School, in West Los Angeles, because of his family's move to California. At 17, Williams joined the United States Merchant Marine and served until the end of World War II.
1938–1952: Early career
Williams had three older brothers—Bob, Don, and Dick Williams. His first performance was in a children's choir at the local Presbyterian church. His brothers and he 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 his 1944 hit record "Swinging on a Star". They appeared in four musical films: Janie (1944), Kansas City Kitty (1944), Something in the Wind (1947), and Ladies' Man (1947).
A persistent myth alleges that as a teenager, the future singing star dubbed the singing for Lauren Bacall's character in the 1944 feature film To Have and Have Not. According to authoritative sources, including Howard Hawks and Bacall herself, this was not true. Williams and some female singers were tested to dub for Bacall because of fears that she lacked the necessary vocal skills, but those fears were overshadowed by the desire to have Bacall do her own singing despite her imperfect vocal talent. This myth is refuted in Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide in the entry for this film.
The Williams Brothers were signed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) to appear in Anchors Aweigh and Ziegfeld Follies (1945), but before they went before the cameras the oldest brother, Bob, was drafted into military service and the group's contract was cancelled. Kay Thompson, a former radio star who was now head of the vocal department at MGM, had a nose for talent and hired the remaining three Williams brothers to sing in her large choir on many soundtracks for MGM films, including The Harvey Girls (1946). When Bob completed his military service, Kay hired all four brothers to sing on the soundtrack to Good News (1947).
By then, Thompson was tired of working behind the scenes at MGM, so with the four Williams boys as her backup singers and dancers, she formed a nightclub act, Kay Thompson and the Williams Brothers. They made their debut in Las Vegas in 1947 and became an overnight sensation. Within a year, they were the highest-paid nightclub act in the world, breaking records wherever they appeared.
Williams revealed in his memoir Moon River and Me that Thompson and he became romantically involved while on tour despite the age difference (he was 19 and she was 38). The act broke up in 1949, but reunited for another hugely successful tour from the fall of 1951 through the summer of 1953. After that, the four brothers went their separate ways. A complete itinerary of both tours is listed on the Kay Thompson biography website.
Williams and Thompson, however, remained very close, both personally and professionally. She mentored his emergence as a solo singing star. She coached him, wrote his arrangements, and composed many songs that he recorded, including his 1958 top-20 hit "Promise Me, Love", and later, "Kay Thompson's Jingle Bells" on his 1964 number-one The Andy Williams Christmas Album. Using her contacts in the business, Thompson helped Williams land his breakthrough television gig as a featured singer for two and a half years on Tonight Starring Steve Allen; it helped that the producer of the series, Bill Harbach, was Kay's former aide-de-camp. Thompson also got Williams his breakthrough recording contract with Cadence Records, whose owner, Archie Bleyer, had gotten early career breaks because of Kay and owed her a favor. Meanwhile, Williams sang backup on many of Thompson's recordings through the 1950s, including her top-40 hit "Eloise", based on her bestselling books about the mischievous little girl who lives at the Plaza Hotel in New York.
Thompson also served as a creative consultant and vocal arranger on Williams's three summer-replacement network television series in 1957, 1958, and 1959. In the summer of 1961, Thompson traveled with Williams and coached him throughout his starring role in a summer stock tour of the musical Pal Joey. Their personal and professional relationship finally ended in 1962, after Williams met and married Claudine Longet, and Thompson moved to Rome.
1953–1961: Cadence years
Williams's solo career began in 1953. He recorded six sides for RCA Victor's label "X", but none was a popular hit.
After landing a spot as a regular on the 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. Williams's third single, "Canadian Sunset", reached number seven in the top 10 in August 1956; it was followed in February 1957 by his only Billboard number-one hit, "Butterfly", a cover of a Charlie Gracie record. "Butterfly" was also number one for two weeks on the UK Singles Chart in May 1957. More hit records followed, including "The Hawaiian Wedding Song" (US number 11), "Are You Sincere?" (US number three in February 1958), "The Village of St. Bernadette" (US number seven in December 1959), "Lonely Street" (US number five in September 1959), and "I Like Your Kind of Love" with Peggy Powers (US number eight in May 1957).
1962–1980: The Columbia years
On December 15, 1961, Williams married Claudine Longet and signed with Columbia Records. His first album with Columbia, Danny Boy and Other Songs I Love to Sing, was a chart success, peaking at number 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 11 other movie themes for an album. After Williams performed the song at the awards show, it became a hit. Moon River and Other Great Movie Themes then sold across the country, garnering critical acclaim and propelling Williams into stardom. The album remained on the charts for the next three years and peaked at number three. In 1963, Williams's producer, Robert Mersey, encouraged him to record "Can't Get Used to Losing You" as the B-side to "Days of Wine and Roses". Williams initially did not like the pop song, preferring the Mancini tune, but "Can't Get Used to Losing You" reached number two in the US and UK. The album containing both songs, Days of Wine and Roses and Other TV Requests, topped the album charts at number one for 16 weeks.
From 1962 to 1972, Williams was 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 recorded more gold albums than any solo performer except Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, and Elvis Presley. By 1973, he had earned as many as 17 gold-album awards. Among his hit albums from this period were The Andy Williams Christmas Album, Dear Heart, The Shadow of Your Smile, Love, Andy, Happy Heart, Get Together with Andy Williams, 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.
In the UK, Williams continued to reach high chart status until 1978. The albums Dear Heart (1965), Love Andy (1967), Can't Help Falling in Love (1970), Andy Williams Show (1970), Home Lovin' Man (number one, 1971), Solitaire (1973), The Way We Were (1974), and Reflections (1978) all reached the top 10.
Williams forged an indirect collaborative relationship with Henry Mancini, although they never recorded together. Both "Moon River" and "Days of Wine and Roses" were written by Mancini, with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. Williams sang Mancini's "Dear Heart" at the 1965 Academy Awards and "The Sweetheart Tree" (also written with Mercer) at the 1966 Awards.
On August 5, 1966, the 14-story, 700-room Caesars Palace casino and nightclub opened in Las Vegas, Nevada, with the stage production of "Rome Swings", in which Williams starred. He performed to a sold-out crowd in the Circus Maximus showroom. He headlined for Caesars for the next 20 years.
On September 17, 1968, Columbia released a single of two songs Williams sang at the funeral of his close friend Robert F. Kennedy: "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and Franz Schubert's "Ave Maria". These were never released on a long-playing record, but have appeared in several compilations of Williams's output.
Williams also competed in the teen-oriented singles market and had several charting hits, including "Can't Get Used to Losing You", "Happy Heart", and "Where Do I Begin", the theme song from the 1970 blockbuster film Love Story. In addition, Williams hit the top 10 of the UK Singles Chart with "Almost There" (1964), "Can't Help Falling in Love" (1970), "Home Lovin' Man" (1970), and "Solitaire" (1973).
Williams and Petula Clark recorded "Happy Heart" around the same time, just before his guest appearance on her second NBC-TV special. Unaware that she was releasing the song as a single, he asked to perform it on the show. The exposure ultimately led to his having the bigger hit with the song. The song "Happy Heart" was used for the final scene and end credits of Danny Boyle's award-winning directorial debut film Shallow Grave (1994).
1962–1971: The Andy Williams Show
Building on his experience with Allen and some short-term variety shows in the 1950s, he became the star of his own weekly television variety show in the fall of 1962. Though cancelled after 1963 owing to low ratings, the show was then sponsored to make 12 weekly specials in the 1963–64 season. This series, The Andy Williams Show, won three Emmy Awards for outstanding variety program. Among his series regulars were the Osmond Brothers. He gave up the variety show in 1971 while it was still popular, continuing with three specials per year. His Christmas specials, which appeared regularly until 1974 and intermittently from 1982 into the 1990s, were among the most popular of the genre. Williams recorded eight Christmas albums over the years, and was known as "Mr. Christmas", due to his perennial Christmas specials and the success of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year".
Williams hosted the most Grammy telecasts—seven consecutive shows—from the 13th Annual Grammy Awards in 1971 through to the 19th Awards in 1977. He returned to television with a syndicated half-hour series in 1976–77.
In the early 1970s, when the Nixon administration attempted to deport John Lennon, Williams was an outspoken defender of the former Beatle's right to stay in the United States. Williams is included in the montage of caricatures on the cover of Ringo Starr's 1973 album, Ringo.
Williams performed during the halftime show of Super Bowl VII in January 1973, held at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
1991–2012: At Moon River Theatre
n 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 theater 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 theater 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 theater ever to be featured in Architectural Digest, and also won the 1992 Conservation Award from the State of Missouri.
The theater was designed to blend with the rough terrain of the Ozark Mountains. He had originally planned a marble style theater reminiscent of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, but soon had a change of mind. The Larson Company of Tucson, Arizona, fabricated a section of rock on Missouri's Highway 76 and the theater was soon engulfed with waterfalls, koi-filled ponds, ferns and trees native to the Ozarks. The inside of the theater incorporates the outside. Trees and plants are seen throughout the theater's three lobbies. Oak floors are accompanied by African ribbon-striped mahogany walls that are filled with pictures of the Andy Williams Show. Williams' passion for art can be seen throughout as well. From the start of his career, Williams had accumulated several paintings and sculptures and decided to fill his theater with his collection. Frankenthaler, Diebenkorn, Oldenburg, Pollock, Klee, and Moore are a small list of artists whose work is on display at the Moon River Theatre.
The theater's auditorium can accommodate 2,054 people. The seating is stadium-style for the best view. The seats and carpets match Williams' Navajo rug collection and are forest green, magenta, gold, and blue. On display inside the auditorium are 19 Japanese kimonos. The stage has accommodated numerous shows and guest celebrities. On stage, Williams was joined by Glen Campbell, Ann-Margret, Petula Clark, and Charo. The theater has also played host to Phyllis Diller, Pat Boone, the Osmond Family, Robert Goulet, Rich Little, Shari Lewis &and Lamb Chop, David Copperfield, Pat Benatar, and Broadway on Ice starring Nancy Kerrigan, Tara Lipinski, and Rudy Galindo.
When it first opened, it was unique because his was the first noncountry act to open in the then mostly country-music town. It was said he was discouraged by many back home in California from making such a bold move, but that was what he wanted. Other noncountry entertainers, such as Bobby Vinton, Tony Orlando, Wayne Newton, and the Osmond Brothers soon followed.
Williams and his theater were featured on three episodes of the soap opera As the World Turns in July 2007, when several characters went to Branson for a concert of "Gwen Munson" held in the Moon River Theatre. The Simpsons featured Williams at his Moon River Theatre in an episode titled "Bart on the Road". Nelson Muntz is an Andy Williams fan, and in the episode, he forces the gang to make a detour to Branson so he could see his idol. He is reduced to tears as Williams performs "Moon River" during the second encore.
In 2007, Williams opened the Moon River Grill adjacent to his theater in Branson. The restaurant is decorated in photos from the Andy Williams Show with stars including Diana Ross, Elton John, and Sammy Davis Jr. Art is center stage in the restaurant, with works by several artists including Andy Warhol and Robert Indiana.
In 1995, We Need a Little Christmas became Williams's 18th gold album.
His 1967 recording of "Music to Watch Girls By" became a big UK hit to a new young television audience in 1999, when it reached number 9 after being featured in new television advertisements for the Fiat Punto—and later for Diet Pepsi—beating the original peak of number 33 in 1967. A new generation was reminded of Williams' recordings, and a sell-out UK tour followed the success of the single, prompting a British revival for Williams. In 2002, he re-recorded "Can't Take My Eyes Off You" as a duet with British actress and singer Denise van Outen; it reached number 23 in the UK singles charts. He completed a sold-out tour of the United Kingdom and Asia in the winter and summer of 2007, in which he performed at several major concert halls including Royal Albert Hall, singing, among other classics, Van Morrison's "Have I Told You Lately".
Williams returned to the UK singles charts with his 1963 recording of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" in December 2007, thanks to an advertisement for Marks & Spencer, reaching number 21 in its first appearance in the British charts, also reaching number 108 on the EU top 200. In 2008, he lip-synched the 45-year-old recording to welcome Santa at the end of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
On October 3, 2009, Williams appeared live on the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing in London, singing "Moon River" to promote the UK edition of The Very Best of Andy Williams LP, which peaked at number 10 in the main pop chart.