President Reagan proclaimed Andy William’s voice a national treasure. I’m not about to challenge that assertion, but Andy wasn’t always the suave crooner that most of us love and adore.
At the tender age of eight, while in the third grade, Andy joined his three brothers singing in the church choir. They were an instant local hit and started to perform regularly on the radio in nearby Des Moines, Iowa, as the Williams Brothers Quartet. Bob, Don, Dick, and Andy were on a roll, and by 1944, they found themselves backing up Bing Crosby on his hit record “Swinging on a Star.”
Soon, the Williams Brothers hit the road, touring the country with Kay Thompson, and it was with her, in 1951 and again in September 1952, that they performed at the Persian Room. Reviewers called the act “trendsetting.”
Speaking with Andy, the first thing I wanted to know was, what was so unusual about that “trendsetting” act.
“Well, first of all, we moved around! That probably doesn’t sound so groundbreaking, but believe me, it was. Prior to us, nightclub entertainers had traditionally stood in one spot and performed. If there was more than one singer, you all clustered around the microphone the best
“We actually had a choreographer—Bob Alton. So that we could move around more easily, we hung the mikes from the ceiling, and I mean we hung the mikes. We actually got up on ladders ourselves and put them where we wanted them, and then we were able to move all over the stage, making our act sort of like a mini musical revue.
“Kay was an enormously dynamic performer. The act she put together was very fast and sophisticated, with high energy and lots of dance movements and singing. Two of our signature numbers were ‘It’s a Jubilee Time’ and ‘Pauvre Suzette.’ In ‘Suzette,’ Kay sang, and my brothers and I were at the four corners, harmonizing and dancing around her.
“We all stayed at the Plaza for the duration of the run, and it was there in the lobby that I was introduced to Stanley Marcus—you know, the cofounder of the Neiman Marcus department stores? He suggested that I take advantage of all the art and culture New York City had to offer,
that I should walk and explore and learn from its many galleries and museums. I took his advice—mainly because the next time I saw him I didn’t want to have to tell him, that I hadn’t. As I result I forged a deep appreciation and love for modern art.”
That experience clearly set something in motion: Prior to his death Andy Williams was considered a major art collector.