Eckstein, Willie

Willie or Billy (William) Eckstein. Pianist, composer, b Pointe St-Charles (now Montreal), 6 Dec 1888, d Montreal 23 Sep 1963. He began playing piano at 3, and was billed at 12 in New York as 'The Boy Paderewski'. After spending six years in vaudeville and touring Europe he returned in 1906 to Montreal and played in movie houses for silent films. Eckstein was known as 'The World's Foremost Motion Picture Interpreter' at the Strand Theatre, where he worked for some 18 years. In 1919 he accompanied the tenor Gus Hill on Montreal radio station XWA (later CFCF) in the first live performance broadcast in Canada. With the advent of talking pictures ca 1930, Eckstein worked in clubs (eg, for 20 years at the Château Ste-Rose), radio, and, later, TV.

A noted exponent of the novelty rag, he has been cited by John Gilmore in the Who's Who of Jazz in Montreal: Ragtime to 1970 as an influence on the Montreal pianists Vera Guilaroff, Bob Langlois and Harry Thomas. Eckstein recorded with his Strand trio for HMV in 1921, and as a soloist for Apex in 1923, for Okeh 1923-4, and for Victor 1929-32. He was a prolific songwriter, and several of his collaborations with Sam Howard, including 'Lest You Forget' (1922) and 'S'Nice' (1923) were popular. He also composed the ragtime pieces Delirious Rag and Perpetual Rag with Harry Thomas, both recorded as piano rolls by Thomas in 1916. Roll Back the Years lists Eckstein's recordings and some of his compositions. A few of his 78s have been reissued by Folkways and Herwin on LP collections of ragtime or jazz. Eckstein was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005.