Iowa History Daily: October 29 - Autumn Leaves

Iowa History Daily: On October 29, 1955, Des Moines’ Roger Williams (originally Louis Jacob Weertz) topped the charts with his classic hit ‘Autumn Leaves.’ The breakthrough hit for Williams, ‘Autumn Leaves’ was the first of 22 hit singles spread over 38 albums for the iconic Iowa musician.

Although born on the Omaha side of the Missouri River, Williams moved to Des Moines with his family before his first birthday. Flourishing in Iowa’s capital city, Williams started on piano at three and had learned to play thirteen different instruments by age 12. During his teenage years, Williams awed crowds at ‘Babe’s Restaurant’ in Des Moines while receiving at least part of his payment in spaghetti.

With his talents earning enough attention to have his own radio show before graduating high school, Williams enrolled at Drake University to study piano before expulsion due to his proclivity for playing popular over classic music. The Navy ROTC brought Williams to Idaho State University where he obtained a degree in engineering before heading east to New York for studies at the Juilliard School of Music.

A break on the ‘Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts’ television program opened the door for Williams’ commercial success in the early 1950s, and by 1955 ‘Autumn Leaves’ signaled the career of success ahead for the long-time Des Moines resident. The track hit the top of the charts and stayed for four weeks while selling over two million copies. The song still stands as the greatest selling piano instrumental recording of all-time. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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