Mooning over Danny Williams

10 November 2006

Few people realize that Moon River, the Oscar-winning theme tune from the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, starring Audrey Hepburn, was made famous by an Eastern Cape crooner.

Danny Williams was born on 7 January 1942 and raised in Schauderville, Nelson Mandela Bay. He sang his first church solo at age six and went on to join a travelling show called the Golden City Dixies, which later included another South African musical legend, Jonathan Butler.

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It was on a European tour that EMI’s recording manager, Norman Newell, recognised that Williams had the potential to be the new Johnny Mathis and signed him to a recording contract.

Moon River hit number one on the UK charts in 1961 and was the first album to sell over a million copies in Britain. While Williams himself faded into relative obscurity on the nightclub circuit, the song became a timeless easy-listening classic.

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Although also sung by stars such as the similarly named Andy Williams and Frank Sinatra, Danny Williams’ version is regarded as definitive. Legend has it that Nat “King” Cole refused to record the song because he believed he could not do it better than Williams.

Williams had a few more minor hits, including Wonderful World of the Young and White on White, which made the US top 10 in 1964.

After the end of apartheid in 1994, Williams visited South Africa but continued to live in the UK. He died there of cancer, aged 63, on 6 December 2005. He was twice married and is survived by three children, including former Coronation Street actor Anthony Barclay.

This article was first published in Eastern Cape Madiba Action, summer 2006/07 edition. Republished here with kind permission of the author.