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Sunday, 12 July 2015

Pixie Williams born 12 July 1928

Pixie Williams (married name Costello, 12 July 1928 – 2 August 2013) was a New Zealand singer best known for the song "Blue Smoke", recorded in 1949. She was a shooting star of New Zealand music – a clear, bright magical voice, a brief luminous career, a brilliant flash of light that lives on as a memory for some - both distant and familiar.
Pikiteora Maude Emily Gertrude Edith Williams was born 12 July 1928, in Mohaka near Gisborne in the Hawkes Bay.  Taken from her mother when only a few months old to be raised by her grandparents. Her happy childhood years were spent with them and her love of music was born – singing around the piano most evenings and on the Marae from age three. 
By 1941 both grandparents had died and Pixie’s happy childhood years ended. She was 12 years old – and now under the care of her Uncle who made her work very hard on his farm.. By age 14 relatives stepped in.  Concerned at the way Pixie was being worked, they told her natural mother who came by one day and picked her up. By age 15 Williams moved to Napier where she got a job cleaning at the hospital, followed by six month stint housekeeping at the Masonic Hotel.
At age 17, Williams moved to Wellington where at the YWCA Hostel on Oriental Parade, her extraordinary voice came to the attention of songwriter and musician Ruru Karaitiana. At that time her talent was known only to the girls she shared lodgings with. Fellow resident and room-mate Joan Chittleburgh (whom Karaitiana later married) suggested Williams, who was always singing in the shower and at hostel piano sessions.  Blue Smoke was written by Karaitiana whilst he was on board a troop ship during World War II and was one of the songs in Williams’ repertoire.
The song launched Williams' career.  It was a magical collaboration between artists that nearly didn't happen. Williams twice turned down Karaitiana when he asked her to record his song.  After one final plea, two months after first asking, she agreed - on the proviso that the recording didn't interfere with her Saturday hockey games.

If Pixie Williams had done nothing else, she would still be in the history books for what happened on October 3, 1948 when she turned up at a makeshift recording studio in Wellington, New Zealand, still wearing her hockey uniform. On that day she sang with the Ruru Karaitiana Quintette on Ruru's Blue Smoke, the first song to be written, recorded and pressed on a local record label (TANZA) in New Zealand. She was 17. 

It was number one on the New Zealand charts for six weeks and sold around 50,000 copies (and was covered by the likes of Dean Martin) and it would have seemed Williams -- then living in a hostel and working in a battery factory -- would have a wonderful career. It was, however, brief.

Pixie Williams (far right) with, from left, musicians Doug Brewer, Bill Hoffmeister, Jim Carter, Keith Willet and Russ Laurence. The women from the audience are unknown. Wellington, late 1940s.
Williams was to go on to sing on several more recordings during 1949 and 1950: "Bellbird Serenade" (backed by Jimmy Carter's Hawaiians), "Maori Rhythm" (backed by Alan Shand's Orchestra), and "Saddle Hill", as part of Ruru Karaitiana's Quavertones. The Quavertones were credited with "Let's Talk it Over" and "Windy City".
In the summer of 1951, Williams headed south to Dunedin, where she met Irishman Paddy Costello. It was love at first sight. Her promising singing career soon took second fiddle to raising their four children. Pixie could not read music but taught herself to play guitar, ukulele, the banjo and piano accordion and, at 73, decided to teach herself the organ - for something to do.

It wasn’t until 2011 that the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand recognised Williams with a triple platinum award for "Blue Smoke" and single platinum award for the song "Let's Talk it Over". The same year, a digitally re-mastered compilation of Williams' songs, For the Record: The Pixie Williams Collection, was released. (Below is a photo of Pixie with her daughter Amelia Costello).

 Williams died at a rest home and hospital in Upper Hutt on 2 August 2013. She had been suffering from dementia, diabetes and Parkinson's disease.
"No matter where you are, music will always have some meaning. When you have music in your heart, it stays with you. It kept me sane in the hard times. Forget the pills - when you've got music in your life you'll be OK."  Pixie Costello (nee Williams ), January 2010.  (Info various sources but mainly edited from Blue Smoke records & Wikipedia) 

1 comment:

boppinbob said...

For “Pixie Williams – For The Record” go here:

1.Ain't It A Shame 02:22
2.Saddle Hill 02:51
3.Bell Bird Serenade 02:44
4.Senorita 02:24
5.It's Just Because 02:43
6.Let's Talk It Over 03:00
7.Sailing Along On A Moonbeam 03:03
8.Maori Rhythm 03:00
9.Best Wishes 03:03
10.Sweetheart in Calico 02:45
11.Windy City 02:51
12.Maoriland 03:03
13.Blue Smoke 02:59