FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – The Indiana University Jacobs School of Music is deeply saddened to announce the death of André Watts, distinguished professor of piano and the Jack I. and Dora B. Hamlin Endowed Chair in Music, on Wednesday, July 12, at age 77.
Joining the Jacobs School of Music faculty in 2004, Watts was recognized as a legendary statesman of the art form and a piano superstar, celebrated across the globe as a musical genius. His performance career spanned more than 60 years.
“André Watts was a treasured and beloved musician, teacher, colleague and friend to so very many,” said Abra Bush, David Henry Jacobs Bicentennial Dean. “His graceful, elegant presence at the Jacobs School of Music will be deeply missed.”
Born on June 20, 1946, in Nuremberg, Germany, Watts was a piano prodigy, receiving his first piano lessons from his mother after deciding to discontinue his initial studies of the violin. When the family relocated to Philadelphia, he began playing with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the age of nine and received training at the Philadelphia Musical Academy. He made his New York Philharmonic debut at age 16, under the auspices of Leonard Bernstein.
In 1962, Watts won a competition to play in Bernstein’s televised “Young People’s Concerts” series with the New York Philharmonic. Soon after, Bernstein called him at the last minute to replace Glenn Gould, who was too ill to make a scheduled New York Philharmonic performance. Watts’ resulting solo performances on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, 1963, inspired immediate worldwide acclaim.
He gave concerts in every major city with top orchestras around the world, including the Berlin and Israel philharmonics, the London Orchestra and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in Carnegie Hall, in addition to regular appearances with the Chicago, St. Louis, Houston and Indianapolis symphonies. By age 20, he was fully booked for 150-concert-performance seasons three years in advance.
Appearing on numerous programs produced by PBS, the BBC and the Arts & Entertainment Network, Watts was described as “a keyboard athlete of undisputed superiority.” His 1976 recital, aired on “PBS Live from Lincoln Center,” was the first full-length recital broadcast nationally in the history of television, and he was a featured performer on the hit children’s series “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”
He was also a prolific recording artist; included among his discography are works by Gershwin, Chopin, Liszt and Tchaikovsky for CBS Masterworks and recordings featuring the concertos of Liszt, MacDowell, Tchaikovsky and Saint-Saens on the Telarc label. He is included in the “Great Pianists of the 20th Century” series for Philips, and in 2016, Sony Classical released “Andre Watts: The Complete Columbia Album Collection.”
At age 26, Watts was the youngest person ever to receive an Honorary Doctorate from Yale University, and he subsequently received numerous honors from highly respected schools, including the University of Pennsylvania, Brandeis University, The Juilliard School of Music and his alma mater, the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University. He was a Grammy Award winner (Most Promising New Classical Recording Artist, 1964) and an Emmy Award nominee (Outstanding Individual Achievement in Cultural Programming, 1995).
He received the George Peabody Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Music in America in 1990. The Democratic Republic of the Congo awarded him the Order of the Zaire, an honorific knighthood, and he received one of the most significant awards for American instrumentalists, the Avery Fisher Prize, in 1988 from Lincoln Center.
In 2011, Watts received the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama, and in 2014, he was inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame. In 2017, he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and received the title of Distinguished Professor at Indiana University. He was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 2020 and was awarded the American Liszt Society Medal in 2022.