(Editor's note: In 2008, during the 50th celebration of the GRAMMY Awards, Andy Williams, the show's first live host and the face of the GRAMMY telecast for nearly a decade, participated in this lighthearted look back at his career and GRAMMY experience. Williams died Sept. 25 at the age of 84.)
Along with original GRAMMY Awards producer Pierre Cossette, Andy Williams could be considered one of the fathers of the live GRAMMY telecast. Starting in 1971, Williams hosted the first seven live shows before giving way to John Denver in the late '70s. Never mind that Williams also hosted the Golden Globes and People's Choice Awards (or his own successful variety show in the '60s): His name is forever GRAMMY linked.
The singer of the definitive versions of such Henry Mancini-penned classics as "Moon River" and "Days Of Wine And Roses," as well as "Love Story," Williams never won a GRAMMY himself, though he earned an Album Of The Year nomination for Days Of Wine And Roses in 1963.
Williams, who passed away Sept. 25, performed until very recently at his own theater in Branson, Mo., where he varied his song list to keep life interesting for the audience, and "for my own sanity."
You had a running gag when you were hosting about never winning a GRAMMY. Was it really enough just to be nominated?
Oh yeah, you take what you can get. I couldn't imagine why Moon River, for instance, wasn't an Album Of The Year. I thought it was a terrific album. When I was nominated I hoped we'd win it, but being nominated was enough.
You lost Album Of The Year to Barbra Streisand in 1963.
Well, she's good too.
Would it have been easier to take if you'd lost to someone with some staying power?
I'd like to have those kind of legs.
You won several Emmy Awards for "The Andy Williams Show" in the '60s. Did you ever think, "Hey, maybe I should be hosting the Emmys"?
Well, I probably should have been. It was one of the few shows I didn't host.
"The Andy Williams Show," which was on NBC, was cancelled in 1971 …
You could put it that way, or you could say it ran out of steam in 1971.
And that was the year of the first live GRAMMY show. Did running out of steam free you from any NBC/CBS conflict?
I don't think so. In fact, the only way the show got on the air is because I would do it. The network said to Pierre Cossette, if you can get Andy Williams or Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra to host it, you can do it. Pierre said, "I can't get Dean or Frank to do it." I don't know why they didn't want to do it. Maybe because it was new, maybe because they didn't think it would be a success, maybe because they were busy. But I said, "Yes, I'd like to do it." I thought it would be great. The GRAMMYs were important before they went on [live] television. It had a reason to be on, and I thought it was a good idea to have it on.
When Pierre came to you for the GRAMMYs, did you think, "This is my chance to meet Moms Mabley?"
No. I'd already met Moms Mabley.
Do you have a most memorable GRAMMY moment from those years you were hosting?
I have a wonderful memory of doing a bit with John Lennon and Paul Simon that was really very funny [the three deliberately mocked awards show banter at the 17th GRAMMYs in 1975]. That whole evening stands out in my mind, the time I spent after the GRAMMYs sitting with John and David Bowie and David Essex. I talked with them quite a bit. I got a letter from John Lennon the next day saying how nice it was to meet me and he said he didn't want to sound like a song plugger, but I should really do one of his songs. That meant a lot to me. I'd admired John a lot for his writing and the success the group had had and for his stand against all kinds of issues.
Do you recall the song?
I think it was "Bless You" [from Lennon's Walls And Bridges album]. I listened to it and I didn't think it was for me. It certainly wasn't "Love Story."
On your show you had a very distinct, relaxed style: cardigans and pullovers. Do you think Kanye West stole your look?
Is he doing that? Sitting on a stool and singing? Perry Como once said, "Well, you stole my sweater, you stole my stool and now you stole my sponsor," when Kraft took over my show for a couple years.
The GRAMMYs have come a long way since you first hosted them. Does that give you a sort of proud father feeling, or maybe a proud grandfather feeling?
It makes me feel proud to be a part of the beginning of it, and to see what it's become worldwide. It is now comparable to the Oscars. I'm really very proud to have been able to host it for seven years.
Do you think you'll ever retire?
To what? No. I spend three months in La Quinta and that's enough. I can't play any more golf. I'll continue [singing] as long as I have fun.