Wiley John Williams was a native of Shreveport, Louisiana where he studied violin, piano, and art. He was concertmaster his HS senior year of the Louisiana All State Orchestra. He played trumpet and bass drum in his high school band, later changing to bassoon. BM and MM degrees were earned from the University of North Texas as a pupil of Silvio Scionti and Jack Roberts. He attended the Yale University Summer School of Music. He held previous teaching positions at Southwest Texas State College and the University of South Dakota. He studied for several years with eminent pianists Frank Mannheimer and Denise Lassimonne in England.
Mr. Williams taught piano and bassoon at the University of South Carolina School of Music faculty from 1968 to 2006. He was a featured piano soloist at the MTNA National Convention, the American Matthay Association National Convention, the Southeastern Historical Keyboard Society Convention, and on bassoon at the National conventions of MTNA, MENC, the French Historical Society, and the International Double Reed Society. As a bassoonist, he was a member of the Carolina Camerata Woodwind Quintet and principal bassoonist with the South Carolina Philharmonic Orchestra and many regional orchestras. He was a founding member of a local chamber series, The Chamber Pots.
Mr. Williams restored a number of fine instruments including an 1890 Buffet French bassoon and two grand pianos – an 1862 Erard, and an 1885 Bechstein. He wrote the libretto for the opera GABRIEL for composer Gordon (Dick) Goodwin and played bass in several jazz groups. He also had a passion for rebuilding Corvairs and was actively involved in CORSA (the Corvair Society Society of America). And he was well-known for his clever caricatures, irreverent spoofs, and poems.
He performed solo recitals featuring composers such as Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, and Chopin. With the UofSC Orchestra, he performed a bassoon concerto composed for him by Richard Maltz. He studied and wrote a treatise on the life of Henry Bellaman, a musical pioneer who lived in Columbia, SC.
Mr. Williams appeared as soloist on numerous occasions with the SC Philharmonic and UofSC Orchestras. When he performed the Rachmaninoff Concerto #3 with the Philharmonic, the State newspaper review said of this performance: “Williams’ work at the piano was absolutely brilliant, a performance which staggers one’s powers of description. He was by turn fiery, powerful, tenderly lyrical, romantic and passionate. His faultless technique at the keyboard was marvelously controlled by exquisite taste and by interpretive artistry of the highest order.”
John’s contributions as a teacher will be everlasting as evidenced by his far-flung influence with students in Europe and the United States. He possessed the ability to solve problems and defuse difficult situations. His students remember him as teacher, friend, humorist of great wit, and a big man with an extraordinarily big heart. In fact, many friends and family remember him with a quote from “Downton Abbey”—“His kindness changed many lives.”
John made his debut on December 14, 1936 and exited on April 8, 2021. He is survived by his wife, Voncille, stepsons Mark Streetman, Jonathan and Joel Driver, daughter Shari Judy, her husband Brian, his sister Faith Love and her husband Kevin. John was predeceased by his first wife, Becky, his brother Steve, and his son Jack.
The family has suggested that in lieu of flowers, contributions to the John Williams Scholarship Fund at the UofSC School of Music would be appreciated. You may send donations c/o Caroline Earp, University of SouthCarolina, School of Music, 813 Assembly Street, Columbia SC 29208. Please make your check payable to the School of Music and indicate it is for the John Williams Scholarship Fund.
There will be an outdoor celebration of John’s life at 11:00 a.m. on May 1, 2021. This will take place at the Copenhaver Band Hall at 326 Sumter Street on the UofSC campus. Valet parking is available