The extraordinary, easy-listening crooning talents of Andy Williams were first unveiled when he was just 8 years old and inducted into the Williams Brothers Quartet as its youngest member. Born in Wall Lake, Iowa , Andy started singing with his three older brothers (Bob Williams, Dick Williams and Don Williams) in his hometown’s Presbyterian church choir. The quartet became instant local news and made its professional singing debut when Andy was in the third grade. A bona fide hit, they went on to become a staple on radio in the nearby city of Des Moines. From there, the harmonizing brothers found widespread popularity on wartime radio, including Chicago and Cincinnati. Andy graduated from high school in Cincinnati. They eventually caught the attention of crooning king Bing Crosby, who included the four boys on his mammoth 1944 hit single “Swinging on a Star”. Specialty film appearances in musicals were popular and the boys appeared in such film fare as Janie (1944), Kansas City Kitty (1944), Something in the Wind (1947) and Ladies’ Man (1947). They then joined singer/personality Kay Thompson in 1947 with her eclectic nightclub act and stayed with the popular show until they disbanded in 1951. Andy was the only Williams brother who ventured out to the East Coast to seek a solo singing career.
His career received a major boost when he co-starred with Chico Marx on the short lived television show called The College Bowl (1950 – 1951). On the show he acted, sang, and danced along with others. The show lasted for 26 weeks. After College Bowl was cancelled Andy Williams was offered regular singing duties on Steve Allen’s The Tonight Show (1953) show, which led to Andy’s first recording contract with Cadence Records in 1956 and his first album. A “Top 10” hit came with the lovely ballad “Canadian Sunset”. This, in turn, was followed by “Butterfly” (#1), “Lonely Street”, “I Like Your Kind of Love”, “Are You Sincere” and “The Hawaiian Wedding Song”, the last tune earning him five Grammy Award nominations. An ingratiating presence on television, he was handed a musical show co-hosting with June Valli and a summer replacement series of his own. In the meantime, he developed into a top nightclub favorite.
In 1962, Andy made a lucrative label change to Columbia Records, which produced the “Top 10” pop hit “Can’t Get Use to Losing You” and a collaboration with Henry Mancini, which inspired Andy’s signature song, “Moon River,” the Oscar-winning tune from the popular Audrey Hepburn film Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). Andy had the honor of singing the song during the Oscar ceremony. Other major chart busters for Andy came with the movie theme songs Days of Wine and Roses (1962), Dear Heart (1964) and Love Story (1970).
An attempt to parlay his singing fame into a film career was one of Andy’s few missteps in a hugely successful career. He co-starred in the light, screwy Ross Hunter comedy soufflé I’d Rather Be Rich (1964) starring Sandra Dee and enjoyably squared off with fellow singing suitor Robert Goulet. Andy and Robert also sang in the picture (including sharing the title song), which was a tepid remake of It Started with Eve (1941) starring Deanna Durbin. It was an artificial role to be sure and is only significant in that it was Andy’s sole legit acting experience on film.
What truly put Andy over the top was the phenomenal success of his weekly variety show The Andy Williams Show (1962). Andy was a natural in front of the television camera and his duets with such singing legends as Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland and Peggy Lee kept audiences enthralled week after week. Andy would often invite his brothers to sing with him and also introduced another talented harmonizing boy group- “Osmond Brothers”. The series, which concluded in 1971, won three Emmy Awards for “Best Musical/Variety Series”. Andy himself picked up a couple of nominations as performer.
In 1961, Andy married a stunning, whisper-voiced French chanteuse named Claudine Longet (born in Paris in 1942), who was 15 years younger. The couple had three children. She made a mild hit of the song “Love Is Blue” and enjoyed slight celebrity status. Like the Crosby family, Andy’s clan became an integral part of his annual classic Christmas television specials. Despite the fact that the couple separated in 1969, Claudine continued to appear in these specials in the early 1970s.
In tandem with his famous television show, Andy opened Caesar’s Palace in 1966 and went on to headline there for over 20 years. The Lennon Sisters appeared alongside Andy there for years. Like the Osmond’s from his hit television show, Andy loved the sound of “family voices” because of the superb blending harmonies. The Lennon’s and the Osmond’s surrounded him with the family blend that he grew up loving with his brothers. All the while, he continued to tour both in the United States and abroad. Andy hosted the Grammy Awards a several times and returned to a syndicated series format in 1976. He sang at the Oscars propelling huge hits such as Moon River and the theme from Love Story, among others.
Inspired by singer/friend Ray Stevens, Andy built a $12 million state-of-the-art theater in the small rural town of Branson, Missouri, which opened in 1992 and was christened the Andy Williams Moon River Theater. Andy became the first non-country star to perform in Branson, to great success and other theme shows have since been inspired to populate the small town–long since considered the live music capital of the world.. largely due to Andy’s influence, having sold over 100 million recordings during his career . A long list of stars followed Andy’s lead and either built or owned theaters there as well. Andy’s beautiful landmark theater and his celebrity are universally credited with the success of the rural community. Of the many celebrities that appeared in Branson, nobody had more influence, or more tickets sold. The Andy Williams Christmas Show, long a family favorite from his hugely popular television series, became a staple during the Christmas seasons in Branson. The Christmas music he sang during his career is, to this day, among the most popular holiday hits ever recorded and frequently heard in movie sound tracks, television specials, terrestrial radio and Sirius Satellite radio . His recordings are sold and downloaded endlessly, touching generations past and present. known as the Emperor of easy, and the King of Christmas.. his smooth voice, elegant and pleasant personality made him one of the most enduring vocalists in entertainment history.