André Watts, the legendary Black American pianist who rose to fame as a teenager, died on Wednesday, July 12, 2023, at the age of 77.
Watts was born in Nuremberg, Germany to an African-American serviceman and a Hungarian mother. He began piano lessons with his mother at the age of 5, showing an aptitude for the instrument from an early age. By the time Watts was 16, he had already won several major competitions, and in 1963, Watts made his national television debut performing Liszt’s First Piano Concerto with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. The concert was a massive success; shortly afterwards, Watts was asked to substitute for Glenn Gould in another New York Philharmonic performance.
Those two appearances in New York made André Watts an international sensation. At the age of 26, Watts became the youngest recipient of a doctorate from Yale. Over the next six decades, Watts went on to perform with major orchestras worldwide, including the Berlin Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the London Symphony Orchestra. Other awards including the Avery Fisher Prize in 1988, the National Medal of Arts in 2011, and being inducted into the Classical Music Hall of Fame in 2014.
In addition to being a celebrated and charismatic performer, Watts was also a dedicated teacher. He joined the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music in 2004 as a professor and remained there until his death in 2023. He is survived by his wife, Nan, and their two children.