By Brittany Hanson/Garden Grove Journal
Pianist to presidents and the people alike, music man Roger Williams will be the Grand Marshal of the 52nd Garden Grove Strawberry Festival parade this weekend.
Mr. Piano, as he is sometimes called, has been pounding out tunes on the ivory board since he was just a child. Now 86, he still practices playing piano and has said that he is still trying to improve.
“I’m still trying to get good,” he said in an interview with the Las Vegas Sun Newpaper, “I’m serious. I’m my own worst critic. I hardly ever listen to my recordings because I think of what I could have done, and it’s kind of discouraging.
“I thought things would slow down at my age, but they’re speeding up. I’m so grateful people want to hear me at this age. I’m playing better than I ever played in my life.”
Williams is a veteran performer of piano music in Las Vegas, symphony orchestras across the globe and is the only person to win the Steinway Piano’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Williams was made famous for his version of the musical piece, “Autumn Leaves” in 1955.
That song is the only piano instrumental piece to hit the top of the charts for the Billboard Hits list.
More locally, Williams has appeared numerous times at Garden Grove’s Crystal Cathedral to play from his repertoire and perform holiday music for listeners.
He has been a 30-year guest for musical entertainment on the cathedral’s “Hour of Power” show.
Born in 1924, Williams started playing the piano at age three. He attended Drake University, Iowa State University and the Juilliard School of Music.
Although “Autumn Leaves” is his most widely recognizable piece, he also has “Born Free,” “Impossible Dream,” “Lara’s Theme,” from Dr. Zhivago and “Somewhere in Time” on his list of hits.
His title of Pianist to the Presidents is not just a name, but an actual honor given to him at the Richard Nixon Library in Yorba Linda.
Having performed for nine commanders in chief, his performances are actually a part of the Congressional Record.
According to his website, one of Williams’ greatest challenges has been to bring music back into the schools again.
He has been honored by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger with the “Champion of Youth Award.”
Roger promotes music in the schools at a yearly Piano Marathon on his birthday, using his recognition to bring attention to the need for music programs in schools.