Lenny Williams… Piano Man, Music Extraordinaire
Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, Old Town Alexandria was a bit different than it is now. There were a lot more music venues than there are today and some popular acts performed here. Where O’Connell’s Irish Restaurant (formerly Bullfeathers) is today was once the Lobster Shed, a very laid back and casual bar/restaurant that was home to a group still playing today…The Nighthawks. Every once in awhile Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band would sit in with the Nighthawks.
Where the Starbucks is at King and Union Streets the late Roger Henderson would be entertaining us with his original songs and his excellent guitar work at the Seaport Inn. The second floor at the Wharf Restaurant on King Street had a huge bar and a stage where the likes of Mary Ann Redmon, Mary Blankemeier, Al Williams and Eva Cassidy performed. It was in the early 80’s that a young classically trained pianist left his home in Baltimore and moved to this area…LennyWilliams had arrived.
Lenny graduated from the Peabody Conservatory of Music in 1983 with a BM degree in music composition. His first gig in this area was playing at Café Lafayette which was once located on North Columbus Street off of King Street. Lenny would fill in on the nights when, then popular, political satirist Joan Cushing was off. From there, Lenny began performing at Abby’s on South Washington where today stands Southside 815. I can’t remember if Marcus’ was the restaurant before Abby’s or the other way around, but Lenny played at both. It was during this time period that Lenny began to create lifelong bonds with the other local performers. Roger Henderson would stop in after he finished his evening at Cate’s (where Balducci’s is today on Franklin Street) and would sing along with Lenny’s piano music.
Lenny also began to work with other local talent including Billy Hancock, Chris Biondi and Eva Cassidy. From 1988 to 1996 he was the pianist for the late Eva Cassidy, whose posthumous recordings have sold over ten million copies. His recordings with Eva have received numerous Gold and Platinum records in the U.S. and abroad.
In 1993 Lenny became the full time pianist with the D.C. based political satire group, the Capitol Steps. The Capitol Steps headquarters is also located here in Old Town Alexandria. In 1995 friend Dave Kane got Lenny involved with National Geographic Television and Film. Since then he has worked with NatGeo Wild, the National Geographic Channel, the Discovery Channel, Court TV, TRUTV, WNET, CNN, TLC, PBS, Animal Planet, Smithsonian Networks and The History Channel. He has also won five BMI awards and contributed music to two Grammy award-wining recordings. He has also won a Teton award at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival (2007) for Outstanding Musical Score and a Panda Award for Best Music in 2008 at Wildscreen.
Lenny has composed original music for over 1,000 hours of broadcast television, winning national Emmy Awards in 2001, 2002,2004, 2005 and 2006 in the category Outstanding Achievement in a Craft: Music and Sound. He has been nominated nine times for the Emmy Award including two nominations in 2012.
Today the 53 year old, Williams lives in Kensington, Maryland with his wife Joan Gregory and children Ellie, Samantha and Grady. Even with all of these awards and achievements, I still relish the days of just listening to Lenny run his fingers across the keys and letting his music take me away. It is nice to know that friends we made years and years ago have created their own careers and have brought joy to so many people. We look to see more of Lenny Williams here in Old Town when his schedule allows him a little free time.
Written by: Bob Tagert