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A gentle crooner's smooth ride down 'Moon River'

POSTED: September 30, 2012 1:00 a.m.

I have interviewed my fair share of celebrities over the years, but never one nicer than Andy Williams.

Andy Williams died last week at the age of 84. I interviewed him twice as he was performing in Atlanta at Christmas.

The one thing that was consistently mentioned in stories about his passing was that he was a gentleman on and off the stage.

The publicist who set up the interviews told me we had 10 minutes on the phone. Both times, we talked for nearly 30 minutes and at no time did Williams act as if he needed to go.

I grew up watching Williams’ weekly variety show on NBC. When he quit doing weekly TV, he reverted back to doing seasonal specials, especially at Christmas.

Williams introduced us to The Osmond Brothers, whose first appearances were as little boys singing barbershop style harmonies on songs like “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby.”

Williams had a number of single hits, but interestingly “Moon River” was not one of them. The song became his trademark and the namesake of his theater in Branson, Mo., but his record label thought the songs lyrics with phrases like, “My huckleberry friend,” would not resonate with younger audiences.

The album containing the song became a multimillion seller.

"That song (Moon River) is my favorite Christmas song. It has made my Christmas merry for years," Williams said in our 2005 interview.

Savannah native Johnny Mercer, whose boyhood home on Burnsed Island fronted on Moon River, wrote the lyrics to Henry Mancini’s tune. The song made its debut in the classic film, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and was sung by Audrey Hepburn. It was Williams, however, who made it a classic.

Williams did his fair share of performances in Las Vegas. He would buck the trend and come to Branson, which had primarily been the domain of country music. He became a mainstay in the Midwest entertainment center and until just a few years ago would do two shows a night to nearly packed houses.

Williams is one of the last of the great singers of the '60s. There were greats like Perry Como, Tony Bennett, Jack Jones and, of course, Frank Sinatra, who were pure singers. There was no pretense, it was real singing. Only Bennett is still active on the concert circuit.

In that era before VCRs, we knew the schedule and would be home to watch Williams’ regular show or one of his specials.

While he was a stylish entertainer known for his beautiful sweaters, he showed his funny side when he was paired with comedian Jonathan Winters, whose character-based humor was just priceless.

Williams found out last year that he had bladder cancer and had returned to his beloved Branson with every intention of beating his health foe. Websites for Branson were advertising Williams’ plans for a Christmas return this year. Sadly, that wasn’t to be.

But fortunately for those of us who loved his music, there are great recordings of his Christmas classics like “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and others.

There will be singers who come along with more commercial success than Andy Williams, but his gentle kindness made his star shine brightly.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.


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