Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Roger Williams (pianist)
Roger Williams (according to one source born January 1, 1925; another source gives October 1, 1924) is one of the most popular pianists in American popular music history. As of 2004, he has released 116 albums.
He was born Louis Weertz, the son of a Lutheran minister (Rev. Frederick J. Weertz) and a music teacher (Dorothea Weertz), in Omaha, Nebraska, but before his first birthday moved to Des Moines, Iowa. He first played the piano at age three, but in high school became interested in boxing, mainly at his father's insistence, and only returned to music after breaking his nose several times and sustaining several other injuries. He majored in piano at Drake University, but was expelled for playing "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" in the practice room. After a stint during World War II in the United States Navy where he received a bachelor's degree in engineering, he managed to re-enroll at Drake, and later moved to New York City to study at the Juilliard School of Music. At Juilliard he studied jazz piano under Lenny Tristano and Teddy Wilson.
One night he was scheduled to play as an accompanist for a Juilliard student who was scheduled to sing on "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts." The singer failed to appear, and Louis Weertz went on as a piano soloist, winning the night's contest. He was heard by David Kapp , founder of Kapp Records, and Kapp was so impressed that he signed the pianist, changing his name to Roger Williams after the founder of Rhode Island. In addition to the Godfrey program, he also won a talent contest on Dennis James ' program, "Chance of a Lifetime."
In 1955 he recorded the only piano instrumental to reach #1 on Billboard magazine's popular music charts: "Autumn Leaves." While many other records of this song have been made since it was composed in 1902, Roger Williams' version is easily the best known and most played.
His first wife, Joy Dunsmoor, bore him three daughters. After divorcing her he married again, in 1985, to Louise DiCarlo.
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