André Watts, one of the first Black superstars in classical music, died on Wednesday at his home in Bloomington, Ind. He was 77 and died of prostrate cancer, according to his wife.
Watts had an electric stage presence, often moving to the music with his head and feet, drawing criticism from the more conservative critics. But his technical prowess overcame those quibbles and launched him into the upper echelons of concert halls.
In 1963, he won an audition to appear with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic as part of the nationally televised series of Young People’s Concerts. He was 16-years-old, but his performance that day was hailed, and he soon received a bigger boost.
Bernstein invited him to make his formal Philharmonic debut, substituting for pianist Glenn Gould. That went over well, and his career was assured.
His mother was a dominant influence in his success. She worked as a receptionist at an art gallery to help pay for his piano lessons, enforcing a strict practice regimen.
In 1964, the year after his debut with Bernstein, Watts won a Grammy Award for most promising new classical recording artist.
Survivors include his wife, Joan Brand Watts, a stepson, William Dalton; a stepdaughter, Amanda Rees; and seven step-grandchildren.