Memorial service for pianist Roger Williams on Monday

By DEEPA BHARATH / Orange County Register
10/14/2011 2:05 PM


A public memorial service for pianist Roger Williams has been set for 1 p.m. Monday at the Richard M. Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda.

Williams, who has played for nine U.S. Presidents including Nixon, died Oct. 8 at his Encino home at age 87 of complications from pancreatic cancer. His memorial is scheduled to take place in the Nixon Library's replica of the East Room of the White House, his former publicist Rob Wilcox said.

"This is the only public service for Roger Williams," he said. "His family members were very particular that it be open to the public because they believe Roger always offered his talents and his music to the public."

A private funeral service was held earlier this week. Williams was buried in a mausoleum at the Crystal Cathedral, where Williams, a close friend of the founders Robert H. and Arvella Schuller, played the piano for 35 years. He left the cathedral in 2010 over a difference of opinion with one of the Schullers' daughters.

It is appropriate that Williams' service be held at a presidential library because he played for nine presidents starting with Harry Truman, Wilcox said. Williams and Nixon particularly shared a special friendship that lasted for more than 30 years until the President's death in 1994. Williams was one of few who were named in Nixon's 1988 memoir "In the Arena" for offering comfort to him during the days after the Watergate scandal and his subsequent resignation, Wilcox said.

Williams also played many times at the Nixon Library, including a 12-hour piano marathon in 2002.

During his illustrious career, which spanned more than six decades, Williams had 21 gold and platinum albums and was the first pianist to get a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He was a Steinway artist who appeared at all major events for the piano-maker, including its 150th anniversary concert at Carnegie Hall.

On Williams' 80th birthday, Steinway made a limited edition gold piano, which still stands at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix. The piano with a gold metallic finish reflects Williams' signature and bears the lyrics and signature notes from the first verse of "Autumn Leaves," the only piano recording to ever reach Number One on the Billboard singles chart. The $285,000 piano toured with Williams.

Williams was the grand marshal of the Garden Grove Strawberry Festival Parade in 2010.

The Nixon Library is at 18001 Yorba Linda Blvd. in Yorba Linda. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to City of Hope/Dr. Sing's Research Project, 1500 Duarte Road, Duarte, CA 91010 and the Pancreatic Cancer Network/In memory of Roger Williams, 1500 Rosecrans Ave., Ste. 200, Manhattan Beach, CA 90266.

Contact the writer: 714-796-7909 or dbharath@ocregister.com