Famed Pianist Roger Williams Passes Away

October 9, 2011 by Amy Gold

Roger Williams 1966
Roger Williams, 1966

Famed virtuoso pop pianist Roger Williams (October 1, 1924 - October 8, 2011) died at 87 of pancreatic cancer at his home in Los Angeles. He is survived by two daughters and five grandchildren.

Roger Williams is famous for the effervescent "Autumn Leaves" (1955) which is the only piano instrumental song to date to ever top the Billboard charts. His many other hits also included "Almost Paradise" (1957), "Near You" (1958), and "Born Free" (1966).

He was born Louis Weertz in Omaha, NE. A child prodigy, he began playing the piano at age 3. He enrolled at Drake University in Des Moines, IA to study piano, but interrupted his studies to enlist in the US Navy and serve in World War II. He completed his bachelor's degree at Idaho State University (then Idaho State College) while still in the Navy, then obtained his master's degree from Drake. He then studied jazz piano at Juilliard. After winning a contest on "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts," he signed with Kapp Records and thereafter became known by his stage name, Roger Williams.

Williams has been dubbed the "pianist to the presidents," having performed for every US president from Harry Truman through George W. Bush. He has recorded over 100 albums and in 2010, he was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.