Hilton Head resident recalls Andy Williams before his big break

rheaton@beaufortgazette.comSeptember 27, 2012 

When John Sippel first heard Andy Williams sing, Williams wasn't crooning "Moon River."

He was in a show more than 60 years ago at a hotel in Chicago, alongside his four brothers and Kay Thompson, who Sippel said was known for producing "gorgeous harmony records."

Hilton Head Island resident Sippel, a writer at Billboard magazine at the time, remembers being impressed by how Thompson and the brothers sounded.

"She sang a brilliant soprano, then you had these five fine young male voices behind her," Sippel said.

The Iowa-born Williams brothers had learned to sing from their parents, who had no formal training. Somehow, their harmony was spot on.

Sippel doesn't remember what they sang -- he was attending a show every night back then -- but he does remember the brothers as gentlemen.

"They were very personable young men straight out of the farmlands of Iowa," he said. "They were damn nice people."

Williams, who died Tuesday at age 84 after a battle with cancer, rose to fame in the 1960s.

In the late '40s at the Blackstone Hotel on Michigan Avenue, however, Sippel would have never predicted such popularity.

The brothers' show with Thompson lasted only eight months. Sippel isn't sure why.

The Williamses went on to Hollywood, and Sippel kept in touch with one brother, Don, who had a career managing acts. From time to time, Sippel would hear how Andy Williams was doing through Don Williams. And he reviewed him a few times more while working at Billboard.

Years later, Williams hit it big with "Moon River." Sippel calls it one of the "greatest ballads of all time."

"I think it was a combination of Johnny Mercer, who was one of the greatest of all in putting together a song, and Andy," Sippel said. "It just fit his style so beautifully."

But it was still a bit surprising to see Andy Williams achieve that kind of fame.

"I didn't think (the brothers) would be as famous as Andy was," he said. "I'm sure Andy would tell you, if you asked him, the same thing."

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