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Peggy Lee with William B. Williams (1968 & 1976)

Posted by Iv 
In another thread, Matthew wrote the following:

I went to the Museum of Radio & Television, and listened to a radio programme from 1968: Peggy had just completed her engagement at the Copa, and recorded a half hour show in front of an invited audience of music industry people at a place called the Riverboat in NY. She and the band performed a great set of live numbers from her repertoire interspersed with chat with the presenter - William Williams (?).

And Bill C. explained:

The presenter in that radio show from 1968 was probably William B. Williams. He was a radio personality on WNEW (AM) radio in the 50's-70's. In the 60's he was hosting the "Make Believe Ballroom" show which had been started on that station in the 30's by Martin Block. Willie B. (as he was often referred to) had a personal relationship with many of the greats of that time, most notably Frank Sinatra. The big names of the day would often appear on his show when in town: Lena Horne, Nancy Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald, Johnnie Ray and so on. My earliest memories of Peggy Lee recordings are from his show, which my dad listened to regularly. One could learn a great deal of information from listening to this show as he did not just play the records, but would give background and trivia information.

(end of quotes)

By one of those curious coincidences, on the very day that Matthew posted this I was actually listening to that 1968 radio show for the first time, at the Museum. When I had last visited it, about 6 months ago, this radio show was one of the items that I had not been able to see or listen to.

The show is titled "Musical Spectacular with Peggy Lee (From The Riverboat)," and the DJ is indeed William B. Williams. The songs:

Do I Hear a Waltz?
Reason to Believe
Didn't Want to Have to Do It
By the Time I Get to Phoenix
Somethin' Stupid
Come Back to Me

I was most curious about "Paradise," because I had not heard Peggy sing this one before. (It is actually one of the unreleased tracks from the "Two Shows Nightly" sessions.) To my surprise, I did not like it much -- but then, I have always been indifferent to this song.

On the other hand, I loved this version of "By the Time I Get to Phoenix." Her reading on "Two Shows Nightly" is excellent i.m.o., but the one on the radio show, while naturally less polished, is more thrillingly emotional.

The radio version of "Didn't Want to Have to Do It" also has moments that are better than in the studio recording.

But the most enjoyable part of the show was actually the rapport between Peggy Lee and William B. A lot of humorous banter went on between them, and I laughed out loud a couple of times. So did the audience. Peggy clearly was in a very amused, tease-and-be-teased mood; some of her hearty laughter here doesn't sound like the more subdued ways of laughing that you hear from her in vintage TV shows and such.

Peggy's eccentric humor also came through when she mentioned that she had a fly for a mascot. Not to be outdone, William B. adds a few odd touches, too.

There's also an LP from the Army Reserve in which William B. chats with Peggy for half an hour, as they play songs from the albums "Mirrors" and "Big Spender." He is not only highly competent but also very likable.

Among the other items that I watched at the Museum was one that containing an excerpt from a show in which Peggy sang with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. The excerpt shows Peggy doing in a beautifully languid and melodious version of "I've Got a Crush on You."


I would just like to add that William B. Williams was on WNEW (AM) in New York from 1944 till his death (from cancer, as I recall) in August, 1986.

I have been searching the web for information on the great WNEW-AM and sadly come up with very little information. This was a local radio station that really embraced and featured swing and pop vocals in the 30's until it's demise in 1992 (it is now a business/news station). It helped to make stars -- for example, Dinah Shore sang on the station in the late 30's and became a star. Sinatra owed much to this station and he knew it -- he would appear regularly in person when in town.

This weekend I listened to "Sugar 'N Spice" and "Mink Jazz". I know the first time I heard some of these cuts was in my childhood on WNEW back in the early 60's. I truly miss that bygone time when radio was an important part of our everyday lives.

Regards To All
Bill C.
Bill, I was wondering if Williams had passed away -- thanks for the information. I have really liked what I have heard from his shows.

You mentioned "Sugar 'n' Spice," which reminded me that, in an interview with Peggy, William jokingly says that he is very partial to her song "Big Bad Bill." Peggy's purring response: "yes, sweet William."

He seems to have particularly liked "Where Can I Go without You," because he repeatedly mentioned to her his admiration for the composition. Nat King Cole's is the version that he seems to have known, and which he professed to play on radio ...


Really interested to hear your comments about the William B. Williams show. It's certainly a gem of a show, and it's a great shame that more people can't hear it. I think her performance has an extra 'live' quality to it that Two Shows Nightly doesn't quite capture, all the more remarkable since she and the band are performing in the afternoon, which for these nightowl players must have been a bit strange.

I'm afraid I'm going to differ about Williams himself though. I actually found him rather disappointing. He doesn't ask any straightforward questions - it's just a string of aimless (though admittedly amusing) banter. Perhaps that's more to do with his personality, as a foil to the performer, but it struck me as being a wasted opportunity. Ah well, I probably approach it from a different perspective!
Michael, I see your point, and I don't completely disagree. I'd say, in Williams' defense, that perhaps he and the show's producers did not feel that this was the appropriate time and place for a serious interview. The focus is on the concert date, with (amusing) banter and (frivolous?) talk thrown in for good measure -- or to create a festive environment.

One reason why I am "supporting" Williams is my familiarity with another, long interview (the one that I mentioned above, from 1975). His questions during that show are smart, Peggy is clearly receptive to them. His expertise is apparent in the way in which the talk flows beautifully, with Williams himself contributing intelligent commentary to supplement points made by Peg.

As a comparison, I am reminded of a 1956 or '57 radio interview that I very recently listened to. This was actually a show in which the interviewer and Peggy listened to a few records by other artists -- apparently favorite records of hers. The DJ was named Willis Conover (I think), and i.m.o. his style left a lot to be desired.

It seemed to me that he had come to the interview with a strong preconceived notion of what the answers to his questions should be, and that as a result he was actually asking leading questions. He also prefaced some of the questions with long commentary. Peggy makes some interesting points, but the show would have benefited from editing one or two of her answers, or from a second try at them. That's because in conversation Peggy seems to go on tangents and perhaps to ramble a bit. Those are actually quirks that I find endearing, and that do not bother me at all (having nearly no conversational skills myself), but they arguably are unsuitable for a formal radio show interview such as this one.

What a difference from Williams' affable yet sharp and substantial interviewing style.

Hi Ivan

Thanks for the context - yes, perhaps I am being a bit hard on Williams. I worked for many years as a radio producer/presenter, so I guess I'm just jealous that he got to interview Peggy, and I never did! (Although I did meet her once, which was a privilege.)

Hi Bill,

Little bit late in responding re: William B. Williams, but he was perhaps one of the best for his time. You are right on about Frank Sinatra, the term "chairman of the board" is attributed dirfectly to William B. Williams. Sinatra made many appearances on WNEW because of him. He also had an all-night show in the begining called, Milkman's Matinee. I grew up in New York in the 50's, and recall his style, it was unique. He used to introduce himself as Guilermo Guilermo, Italian for William William, he was very proud of his Italian heritage, ergo, his love for another Italian - Frank Sinatra. I did record some of his last shows - he stayed on the air almost to his last days. I have also been surprised that there is so little available about him. For some reason or another, many of the other personalities of WNEW are available; Martin Block, Bob and Ray, Gene Klabun, and a host of others. I believe that his wife is still alive, and has much of his past intact......

Tom D.
Hi Tom D.

I am so glad to have found someone on this board who knows firsthand what a great radio station WNEW was and how in some ways it impacted the popular music of the time. My memories start in the early 1960's and I was listening when this once great station was sold and became a business format in the early 1990's.

I am of Italian heritage and my dad loved that Willie B. was proud of his heritage. I am also glad that in addition to the rock/pop of my era, I was exposed to the great bands and vocalists through this radio station - it was a great gift that we did not even know the value of!

Bill C.

Although I never lived in New York or listened to WNEW, my local radio station carried the "Encore" program hosted by William B. Williams. I really enjoyed listening to that program and was sad to hear of his death. I enjoyed hearing all of those tunes from the past and I believe it included interviews that he did with singers like Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra and many others. The show continued on with Jim Lang as host for a while. There was a nice tribute to him on the program after his death.

Roger W Grapp
I know that this is a little late, but I would like to correct you on William B. Williams' favorite way of saying his name. It was in Spanish, not Italian. It was Guillermo B. Guillermos. I grew up in N.Y.C. in the 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s, when in 1976 I moved to California. WNEW was my favorite radio station. And that "Milkman's Matinee" was terrific. Do you remember Lonnie Star? His show was called "Star, Sinatra and Strings."

Manny Garcia
Modesto, Ca.
I hope I'm not being presumptuous getting in on this conversation -- I too grew up in Newark and Union and WNEW was my favorite station as well, and William B. Williams is a legend in broadcasting. He took over "Make Believe Ballroom" after Jerry Marshall left the station in early 1957 (Jerry started on WMGM 1050 on March 18, 1957); and Jerry had inherited the show when Martin Block went over to WOR.

Am I correct that the song "Make Believe Ballroom" was written and composed especially for Martin Block by Glenn Miller?

One of my memories of William B. was his comment on The Marcels' version of "Blue Moon" (which he never played) that had just been released, that "these groups that call themselves the Earaches ruin classic songs."

Do you guys remember when Al Collins had the night-time show on WNEW?

When I started college in Kentucky in 1965, every once in a while I was able to pick up WNEW at night-time and early in the morning. The last morning broadcast I was able to hear was Claven and Finch -- those guys were nuts! But I loved every minute!

Hi Skip,

Wasn't Al Collins billed as Al 'Jazbo' Collins?

Hi Bill,

Yes, I'd forgotten the "Jazzbo" moniker. There is so much about NYC radio to remember!

October 27, 2004 06:44AM
Bill C:

Noted your lament about the lack of information about WNEW on the internet. Type in "We Die At Dawn" (a book written by Gene Klaven of Klaven and Finch), and several links will show up. Also check out "DCNYRadio Memory Bank" or "WNEW 1130 in New York". There's a bit of info there.

Skip Borsos
Thanks for the tip. I will check it out!
A couple of radio notes. In 1974 when Peggy lost quite a bit of weight she appeared on radio with William B. Williams talking about "Lite Salt" and he marveled at how "the elegant one" looked. I also remember when Jonathan Schwartz, also then on WNEW, invited Peggy for a heavily publicized studio interview on his show in the 1970s and she didn't show up because of a scheduling snafu. He really lashed into her and her booking agent since he had promoted the spot all week. He later then apologized and subsequently praised her musicianship after her passing.

That is a very interesting story about Jonathan Schwartz and Peggy Lee in 1974. These days you can hear Mr. Schwartz Saturday and Sunday on WNYC (NY Public Radio, also carried on XM Satellite Radio) for four hours per day. He has an excellent program that pays respect to those artists we associate with the American Songbook, and introduces you to the great artists who are carrying on this tradition today.

Curiously, I have always been curious that Mr. Schwartz does not play Peggy Lee very often. When he does, it is seems to be part of a discussion about another artist. For example, when Billy May died he played Billy May arrangements by many artists including Peggy Lee. Another day he played a selection from Beauty and the Beat, but it was really a segment on George Shearing. If he does play her in a 'stand alone' fashion, it is usually played in the middle of a few songs with no commentary. I have never heard him talk about her career or artistry just for itself.

I don't listen to every minute of the broadcasts and I may be missing something here. Your story from 1974 may just put this all into perspective.

Regards to all
Bill C.
Sorry for the tangent but I was searching on Al Collins and found this thread.

I had the pleasure of listening to Al on KGO in San Francisco in the late 70's. The Purple Grotto. The 3 a.m. train. It was my introduction to talk radio and all he had to offer.

He once held a picnic in Golden Gate Park for his listeners. You wouldn't believe all the people that showed up.

(I just found this thread, some months after the fact. Probably no one will ever read this, but I'll try anyway.)

I grew up "in front of" WNEW (born in '38). My earliest memories are of my mother, Martin Block, and my father (in that order).

I remember when they featured a NEW singer, named Peggy Lee, and her "Why Don't You Do Right".

I remember when they featured another NEW singer, named Ella Fitzgerald, and her "Little Yellow Basket".

I remember a fellow named Glen Miller telling Martin Block how he'd joined the army and would be departing for England to entertain the troops there.

William B. was one of the all-time great ones. His greatness is epitomized for me by this anecdote:

In the '60s I was in California listening to a local station there when they played a national commercial on which he did the voice. (No mention of his name, but of course I recognized the voice instantly). Then the local announcer said "Guglielmo B. Guglielmos!! -- bene, bene!!!!" and offered the locals NO explanation of that.

He would state his name in several variants--
Guglielmo B. Guglielmos (Italian)
Guillaume B. Guillaumes (French)
Guillermo B. Guillermos (Spanish)
Wasily B. Wasilys (Russian)
(and possibly others I never heard).

Though he used the Italian version most often, that should not be taken as his heritage, which is Jewish. (I listened to WNEW's coverage of his funeral -- clearly a Jewish service.) I doubt that "William B. Williams" was his real name, though I have no clue what his real name was. Anybody?

Gerry from 6th Street & Avenue A
I too remember listening to William B. winter evenings in Ithaca, NY. I am a retired broadcast executive. I host a two-hour nostalgic music program each Sunday morning on WHCU-AM here in Ithaca. One of my listeners wanted to know the name of the theme song William B. used on his program. Someone said "You Are The One"... but no artist was listed. Can anyone answer?

Rudy Paolangeli
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