Roger Williams, "Pianist to the Presidents," dies

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 08, 2011 12:28 PM
Roger Williams, "Pianist to the Presidents," dies

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Roger Williams, known as "the Pianist to the Presidents" for his White House performances, died on Saturday in his California home after a brief battle with pancreatic cancer, his former publicist said. He was 87.

Williams scored his first hit in 1955 with a chart-topping "Autumn Leaves," the best-selling piano record of all time.

He would go on to earn 18 gold and platinum records and albums throughout his six-decade career, making him the top charting pianist in the history of Billboard magazine.

Born Louis Weertz on October 1, 1924 in Omaha, Nebraska, Williams learned to play piano at age three in his father's church.

In 1942, at the age of 18, Williams enlisted and served in the Navy throughout World War Two. After the war he graduated with a Masters degree in music from Drake University.

Williams moved to New York City to pursue a career as a pianist. He was signed to his first recording label after being spotted by a record producer while playing at the ritzy Forest Hill Inn.

While on a U.S. tour, Williams was spotted by President Harry Truman, who asked him to play at his Missouri office. Later President Dwight Eisenhower would invite him to the White House, and he would eventually perform for nine presidents, earning him his nickname.

Williams, the first pianist to be honored with a star on the Hollywood "Walk of Fame," performed for the last time a few days after announcing on his website in March he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

He is survived by his daughters Laura Fisher and Alice Jung, as well as five grandchildren.

(Writing by Roy Strom; Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Greg McCune)