Monday, August 05, 2013

RIP Pixie Williams

Pixie Williams passed away on Friday evening of August 2 at an Upper Hutt rest home - she was 85. From Audioculture's Chris Bourke-penned bio of the 'Bluesmoke' singer...

"The first star of New Zealand’s post-war recording industry was a reluctant participant. When Pixie Williams was approached in 1948 by songwriter Ruru Karaitiana to record ‘Blue Smoke’, she turned him down – twice.

Williams was born in 1928 in Mohaka, northern Hawke’s Bay and brought up by her grandparents. At 17 she moved to Wellington, and lived in the YWCA hostel on Oriental Bay where she became known for singing in the shower and at sessions around the hostel piano. When Karaitiana was looking for a singer, his girlfriend Joan Chittleburgh recommended Williams – a friend at the hostel.

To the diffident singer, the sessions in October 1948 – at Tanza’s new studio on Wakefield Street, Wellington – seemed to take a month of Sundays. One morning Williams didn’t turn up, and Tanza employee John Shears was sent to find her: She had gone to play hockey. Shears recalled, “I can still see Pixie in her hockey gear, with striped socks, singing away. And Ruru looking very serious. He always looked serious.”

After ‘Blue Smoke’, Williams followed up with another song by Karaitiana, ‘Let’s Talk It Over’ – another sad, slow waltz, but a sophisticated song with more adventurous melody, which she handles confidently. Over the next few months Williams would record nearly a dozen sides for Tanza, but late in 1949 she followed her heart to the South Island, and rarely performed in public...."

“Music – it’s what keeps you going through good times and bad. It kept me sane in the hard times. Forget the pills. When you've got music in your life – you’ll be ok.” Pixie Williams

From Chris Bourke's blog: "The complete 1949 newsreel covering the release of ‘Blue Smoke’ is now available online at NZ On Screen. Directed by Stanhope Andrews, Weekly Review #407 also features items on flying sheep, sharp-shooting army cadets, steeplejacks high above 1940s Wellington, and the transportation of heavy machinery. Finally – the audience gasping in anticipation – the ‘Blue Smoke’ item turns up at 5’14”.


Besides showing a dramatisation of the recording session for the song – which had actually taken place about nine months earlier – the newsreel shows in some detail the manufacturing processes required to press the disc, as Tanza’s first release. I have written about this newsreel before – it helped pin down the actual release date of ‘Blue Smoke’."

News reports:
Blue Smoke singer Pixie Williams dies: from, August 6, who note that "There will be a funeral service for Williams at St Joseph's Church Upper Hutt at 1pm today [Aug 6]. She will be buried beside her husband in Dunedin."
Singer of NZ classic dies: from RadioNZ

Pixie Williams’ recordings were rereleased on CD/digital, as For the Record: the Pixie Williams Collection, in 2011 on Blue Smoke Records.

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