My mother never smoked cigarettes during the day. But after my daddy died in 1963, every night after I went to bed, she would fix a drink (Kentucky Gentleman bourbon and water), fire up a Kool Menthol and listen to records. I was six years old when Daddy died and I remember well going to sleep to the sounds of her favorite music for almost the next six years when she married my step-father.
Frank Sinatra, Nat “King” Cole, pianist Roger Williams, Al Hirt, and Pete Fountain were usual suspects on her old RCA Hi-Fi. The automatic record changer allowed several 33⅓ vinyl albums to play and drop while the music never stopped. The only performer who made Mom’s playlist every night was Andy Williams. His renditions of Moon River, Canadian Sunset, Dear Heart and Love is a Many Splendored Thing are forever etched in my mind because I heard them as I drifted off to sleep for so many years.
Sometimes the fondest of memories come from the hardest of times. I don’t know if I ever felt closer to my mother than I did during the years right after my father’s death. It was just the two of us and she did her level best to entertain me. She loved music and made sure to expose as much of it to me as she could. One way was to let me watch the variety television shows of the 1960s with her. I would ask to stay up “until the next commercial” during the Perry Como, Red Skelton or Hollywood Palace shows. She would raise her eyebrows and say, “Well, okay, but just one more.” Sometimes that “one more” would be the end of the show. Then, after I went to bed, the black and white TV went off and the Kools and the old RCA Hi-Fi went on.
Like his records, Andy Williams’ weekly TV show was a special favorite for us. We watched the Osmond Brothers when there were only four of them sing with Andy. I remember that when young Donny joined his brothers in the act, Andy joked to the TV audience, “Before long, they’ll come in a handy six-pack.” Soon, there was Marie. The shows featured special guests, sometimes Andy’s brothers with whom he began his singing career and his beautiful wife with the French accent and name, Claudine Longet. The Christmas episode was always a favorite.
Andy Williams and Henry Mancini In Concert!
Though many people think of Jackson, Mississippi, where we lived then, in terms of racial strife and unrest during the civil rights-era sixties, they haven’t a clue of the great art and culture the city offered during those dramatic times. My mother took me to see live performances by Andy Griffith, Dinah Shore, Jack Benny, Bob Hope and even Henry Fonda, who presented a dramatic reading during the annual arts festival.
We both enjoyed all of those legends but for my mother, they paled in comparison to Andy Williams. He performed with Henry Mancini and his orchestra at the then new Mississippi Coliseum. Mancini opened the show with a full hour of his music played by a superb group of musicians.
After intermission, the moment Mom and I anxiously anticipated arrived – Andy Williams in person! With Henry Mancini! The Jackson audience gave the singer an enthusiastic welcome. I remember one of his stage jokes. Videotape was relatively new and he quipped, “Someone asked me how I could be on tour and be doing my show from Hollywood at the same time. I told them, ‘I’m actually live in Hollywood now – what you’re watching here is on tape!’” Huge laugh. His voice, his songs were flawless. The audience flowed with him at every bend like Moon River – wherever he was going, we were going his way. Mom often remembered that evening and talked about it occasionally until she died in 1992.
The same rainbow’s end
I have never been a cigarette smoker but the smell of one freshly lit has always been pleasant to me. Perhaps, in the recesses of my mind, memories of my mother lighting up at night return. When I learned that Andy Williams died, I stopped what I was doing and played Mom’s old copy of his record Moon River & Other Great Movie Themes. Although my wife Gail doesn’t smoke either and only our beagle Belle was in the house with me that morning, I swear I could smell a fresh Kool Menthol and smoke from a newly-extinguished Diamond Strike-Anywhere match as I listened.
Text and photo copyright 2012 Les Kerr. Click to Learn More about Les and follow on Facebook and Twitter!