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Popular singer left his mark on American musical scene

September 30, 2012

By Lynda Hollenbeck

If there's a more romantic song around than Andy Williams' "Hawaiian Wedding Song," I've yet to hear it.
Ironically, I've never heard it actually sung at a wedding, but I've always thought it would fit, particularly for some of the island ceremonies that have become popular in recent years.
Hearing it never fails to touch me and I'll always associate it with this wonderful singer, who's now gone.
It's sad to see the passing of another of the entertainment icons that made such an indelible mark on the popular music scene.
How many of us can remember enjoying his wonderful Christmas specials? I recall watching them in the living room at my family's home in Cotton Plant. I can't remember a single one that wasn't entertaining.
And what do we have in their place? I'd rather not say.
I don't remember the first time I heard Andy sing. I just know that I liked his voice and his style and, from all appearances, the man. I'm sad to say I never saw him perform live.
My cousins and aunt did get this opportunity on a trip they made to California a long time ago. One of the significant things they observed about the experience was that they never had realized how short Andy was.
Just a point of trivia that probably no one cares about, because I'm certainly not going to berate anyone for a lack of height.
That truly would be the equivalent of the pot calling the kettle black.
Williams forged an indirect collaborative relationship with composer Henry Mancini, although they never recorded together. Williams was asked to sing Mancini and Johnny Mercer's song "Moon River" at the 1962 Oscar Awards, where it won, and it quickly became Williams' theme song. However, because it was never released as a single, "Moon River" was never actually a chart hit for Williams, which is another point of irony.
For the next year's Oscars show, Williams sang "Days of Wine and Roses," also written by Mancini and Mercer, and it, too, won an Oscar. Two years later, he sang Mancini's "Dear Heart" at the 1965 awards and "The Sweetheart Tree" (also written with Mercer) at the 1966 awards.
"Moon River" stayed with him throughout his career, of course, and was used to name his theater in Branson.
During the 1960s, 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 18 gold album awards.
Among his hit albums from this period were "Moon River," "Days of Wine and Roses" (No. 1 for 16 weeks in mid-1963), The Andy Williams Christmas Album, "Dear Heart," "The Shadow of Your Smile," "Love," "Andy," "Get Together with Andy Williams," and "Love Story."
And then he also recorded "Born Free," which was so beautiful and meant so much to many animal rights campaigns.
These recordings, along with his natural affinity for the music of the 1960s and early 1970s, combined to make him one of the most popular easy listening singers of that era.
Although he introduced many who would be famous, none perhaps is more memorable than the Osmonds. They, like many, got their start with Andy, who seemed to have a heart big enough to embrace many.
He made friends with some notable people along the way, including Robert Kennedy. He was among those campaigning in June 1968 at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles when Kennedy was fatally shot by Sirhan Sirhan.
Williams sang "Battle Hymn of the Republic" at RFK's funeral, by request of his widow, Ethel Kennedy. By August 1969, more than a year after Bobby Kennedy's death, Andy and former wife Claudine named their newborn son "Bobby" Williams.
Surely the theater lights have dimmed at least momentarily since Andy's passing.
Branson won't be forgetting him.

Lynda Hollenbeck is senior editor of The Saline Courier.
lyndahol@yahoo.com

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