With a successful career lasting more than a half-century, and as one of Billboard magazine's number one hit makers beginning in the 1950's, the great virtuoso pianist and composer named Roger Williams passed away earlier this month at 87 years of age. Born Louis Wertz in Nebraska, he could already play the piano by age three. But this was, indeed, just one of the many accomplishments for the man they called "Mister Piano."
Williams was innovative and seemed to enjoy expanding his horizons, both musically and technologically. By the ripe old age of nine, he was already able to play nearly anything "by ear" and on a variety of instruments, but another facet to his incredible list of credits is hosting his own fifteen-minute radio show in his early teen years – perhaps the forefather to today's podcasts. After attending Juilliard School of Music, Williams took his talents to the masses by entering competitions – and easily winning – before signing to Kapp Records by the one-and-only Dave Kapp, himself.
Roger Williams first hit record came from a drastically edited version of his classic, "Autumn Leaves," that had to be shortened to accommodate the so-called 3-minute limit of 1950's radio. Clearly, that was all it took for him to find that massive audience that rocketed him to stardom. After that point, the hits kept coming and his frequent appearances on television (remember, there were only a precious few networks at that time) variety shows made him a household name. That particular song became the largest selling piano recording of all time.
Williams' thirty-eight hit records and twenty-two hit singles fill a discography that is filled with his vivid musical imagery and emotion that may have contributed to how so much of his music was included in movie soundtracks throughout his career. He was also the first pianist to receive a star on the famed Hollywood Walk of Fame and he performed for every President of The United States from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton.
The entire music industry will remember the effortless, fluid, and embracing genius of Roger Williams for generations to come. His passing on October 8, 2011 brings his family, friends, and his fans to a fermata, if you will. OnlineSheetMusic celebrates the life and music of the great Roger Williams. Rest in peace.