Andre Watts is the first African-American concert pianist to achieve international superstardom. Critics have
called Watts electrifying, sensational, daring, colorful, imaginative, powerful, and a supervirtuoso. One of today's celebrated
superstars, Watts burst on the Philadelphia music scene at age nine and the world music scene at age 16. He has subsequently
performed all over the globe, always receiving rave reviews. Born June 20, 1946, in Nuremburg, Germany, the son of an African
American career soldier, sergeant Herman Watts, and a Hungarian mother, Maria Alexandra Gusmits, Watts lived in Europe, mostly
near army posts, until the age of eight. A change in his father's military assignment caused the family to move to the United
States and settle in Philadelphia.
Addresses: Current address: c/o IMB Artists, 22 East 71st Street, New York, NY 10021.
The family unit remained intact until 1962, when Herman and Maria were divorced. Maria Watts insists that it
was not a question of the husband deserting the family. Andre remained with his mother, whom he credits with considerable
influence in his development. In an interview for the New York Times Magazine, Watts described his mother as " a very
sharp woman. She never tells me that my performances are unqualified successes, always picks out some obscure passage that
needs polishing." Maria Watts worked to support herself and young Andre, first as a secretary and later as a receptionist
in an art gallery.
Watts began studying the violin at age four. By the time he was six he made it known that his preference was
for the piano, so his mother, a pianist herself, gave him his first lessons. As is frequently the case, he loved to play but
hated to practice. When his habit persisted, his mother began relaying stories of her countryman, pianist and composer Franz
Liszt, emphasizing the fact that he practiced faithfully. Liszt soon became Watts's hero, and he even adopted Liszt's bravura
In Philadelphia, Watts went first to a Quaker school, then to a parochial one, then to Lincoln Preparatory School.
He was also enrolled at the Philadelphia Academy of Music, where he studied with Genia Robinor, Doris Bawden, and Clement
Petrillo, graduating in June 1963. It is said that with his huge hands, he always painted in full colors.
Watts entered his first competition at age nine, competing with 40 other gifted youngsters for an opportunity
to appear in one of the Philadelphia Orchestra's Children's Concerts. Watts won the competition and with this accomplishment
successfully launched his career. He performed a Franz Joseph Haydn piano concerto. At age ten, he performed the Felix Mendelssohn
G minor concerto with the Robin Hood Dell Orchestra and at 14, Cesar Franck's Symphonic Variations, again with the
When Watts was 16, he auditioned at Carnegie Recital Hall before three New York Philharmonic assistant conductors
and Leonard Bernstein's secretary. The group applauded his audition performance, moving him on to the maestro himself--Bernstein--and
the finals, where things went equally well. Watts had little awareness of what this event could make possible. Watts recalled
the experience several years later for journalist Norman Schreiber, Watts said: Hey my teacher was there; my mother was there;
they were going to be really bummed out if I played like a pig. I would feel miserable. I also realized it would be good for
you if other people like your playing.
Watts played Liszt's E-flat Concerto at Lincoln Center with the New York Philharmonic, conducted by Leonard
Bernstein. A Young People's Concert, the program was taped three days earlier than it was shown on CBS television on
January 15, 1963. Bernstein introduced the young pianist to the national audience. Less than three weeks after he was soloist
for the Young People's Concert, Bernstein asked Watts to substitute for an ailing Glenn Gould, who was the scheduled
soloist for the New York Philharmonic's regular subscription concert on January 1, 1963. Again Watts performed the Liszt E
flat Concerto. So spectacular was this performance that he made international headlines and Columbia recorded an LP entitled,
The Exciting Debut of Andre Watts. Time magazine quoted the liner notes: ... Andre approached the piece as a
tone poem. In scherzo passages, he had the speed and power necessary to dignify his delicately poetic ideas of the slow pianissimos.
His singing tone stayed with him in every mood of his varied approach, and when he had sounded his final cadenza, the whole
orchestra stood with the audience to applaud him. Even the Philharmonic fiddlers put down their bows and gustily clapped hands.
ENTERS CONCERT LIFE
Following his debut, Watts's manager restricted him to a limited number of engagements: the first year, six
concerts; the next, 12 concerts; the next 15 concerts, and so on. His mother and manager, decided that his entry into concert
life would be gradual. In addition, success would not isolate him from his classmates. His English and American history instructor,
Roy Cusumano wrote in International Musician, "he became friendlier and more responsive." Gradually the number of concerts
increased, reaching 150 by the mid-1970s. By then Watts was performing about eight months out of the year. In the late 1990s,
he fulfilled roughly 100 engagements per year, divided between concert appearances and solo recitals.
Though he attained celebrity status at an early age, Watts continued to study with the noted pianist and teacher
Leon Fleisher. Following high school graduation, Watts began to study part-time for a bachelor of music degree at Peabody
Institute in Baltimore, where Fleisher was a member of the faculty. He graduated in 1972.
In July 1963, Watts appeared at New York City's Lewisohn Stadium with Seiji Ozawa and the New York Philharmonic,
performing Camille Saint-Saen's Concert No. 2 in G minor. In September 1963, he again performed the Liszt concerto at the
Hollywood Bowl. He opened the 1964--65 National Symphony Orchestra's season in Washington, D.C., performing the Saint-Saens
concerto. He returned to New York in January 1965 to perform Chopin's Concerto No. 2 in F minor with the Philharmonic.
Watts made his European debut in a London performance with the London Symphony Orchestra in June 1966. Shortly
thereafter he appeared with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in Amsterdam, Holland. In October of the same year, he made his New
York recital debut, opening the Great Performers Series at Philharmonic Hall. He made his debut in Berlin, Germany, also in
1966, when he performed with the Berlin Philharmonic under the leadership of Zubin Mehta.
Watts embarked on a three-month world concert tour beginning in September of 1967, under the auspices of the
U.S. Department of State. He celebrated his twenty-first birthday by signing a long-term exclusive contract with CBS Records.
By 1969 he was on a full-scale concert schedule, booked three seasons in advance.
MAKES PUBLIC IMPACT ON TELEVISION
Anniversaries were becoming more and more frequent. Though only 30 at the time, he celebrated his tenth consecutive
appearance in Lincoln Center's Great Performance Series at Avery Fischer Hall in 1976. Since he was the first classical artist
to make his initial public impact through television, the producers believed that his should be the first solo recital televised
live in its entirety from Lincoln Center. Watts's relationship with television in the field of classical music is unique.
His PBS Sunday afternoon telecast in 1976 was the first solo recital presented on Live from Lincoln Center and the
first full-length recital to be aired nationally in prime time. The 1988--89 season offered a televised concert featuring
the Shostakovich First Piano Concerto, performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra, with Watts doubling as piano soloist and
In June and July 1974 he made a five-week tour of Japan and made summer appearances at the Hollywood Bowl, Ambler,
Ravinia, and Concord festivals. Between recitals and orchestral appearances throughout the United States, there were two European
tours during the 1975--76 season. Unlike many other proteges, Watts lived up to his early promise and was a greater sensation
as time moved on. A 1975 press release from the Judd Concert Bureau described Watts as: Serious-minded and worldwise...Watts
dresses conservatively and comes on rather like a mature college professor as he talks soberly of the artist's responsibilities
to society. He is not for the gimmick of any kind, plays his programs straight and shies away from publicity not specifically
related to his metier. ...
Watts decribed the playing experience to James Conaway of the New York Times: My greatest satisfaction
is performing. The ego is a big part of it, but far from all. Performing is my way of being part of humanity--of sharing.
I don't want to play for a few people, I want to play for thousands. ... There's something beautiful about having an entire
audience hanging on a single note. I'd rather have a standing ovation than have some chick come backstage and tell me how
great I was.
In 1964 the National Academy of Recording Artists and Sciences presented Watts with a Grammy Award and in February
1973 he was selected as Musical America's Musician of the Month. Other honors and awards include honorary doctorates
from Albright College and Yale University, the Order of the Zaire from that African country, and a University of the Arts
Medal from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
Still in great demand after performing more than 30 years, Watts was asked by Mark Adams for the Washington
Post about the 1991 winner of the Naumberg Piano Competition, "a black whiz kid with dreadlocks named Awadagin Pratt."
Watts's response was, "This is not an unfillable position." Thirty-three years after his first recording, 1995 and 1996 reviewers
still raved over Watts's performances of Tchiakovsky's Piano Concert No. 1, Saint-Saens's Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Atlanta
Symphony, MacDowell's Piano Concerto No. 2, and Liszt's Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 2 with the Dallas Symphony.
At age 50, Watts remains one of the world's "greatest in demand" pianists, both as recitalist and concert soloist.
He continues to perform on the world's most important concert stages and with the world's most celebrated orchestras and conductors