“Autumn Leaves” is the first number one instrumental of the rock era. The melody was originally written in France by Joseph Kosma and was called “Les Feuiles Mortes” which means “Dead Leaves.” I guess that describes autumn leaves pretty well. Words have been written for the melody, but, of course, no words are used in Roger Williams’ version.
This is the only number one song in the history of the rock era with the word “Autumn” in it’s title. Only one other season is mentioned in number ones, Percy Faith, “Theme from ‘A Summer Place'” in 1960 and the Lovin’ Spoonful, “Summer in the City” in 1966.
Roger Williams was born Lou Weertz in Omaha, Nebraska on October 24, 1924. He was a child prodigy, learning to play the piano by the time he was three years old and writing original music when he was four. In High School he took up boxing, which seems bizarre for a piano player. There was a big chance he could have hurt his hands. But, he didn’t. He joined the Navy after High School (it was during World War II) and it’s reported that he once sparred with the Swedish boxing champion Ingemar Johansson.
Coming home from the war, he studied at Juilliard in New York City and while in New York, he tried out for and won Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts show. This brought him to the attention of record producers at Kapp Records and he signed up. The people at Kapp said, nobody wants to hear a fellow named Lou Weertz play the piano, we need to change your name. So, they decided to name him after the founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams. From that moment on, he was Roger Williams and he created some of the most beautiful music we have.
Roger Williams died of pancreatic cancer on October 11, 2011. He was 87 years old.
Here is a live video of Roger playing “Autumn Leaves”. I like seeing him play rather than just listening to the audio, even though this is not exactly what charted. (it’s close.)
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