Often described as “tall” or “leggy”, 16-year-old Bonnie Lou Williams, said to either be a native Californian or to hail from Seattle, depending on the source, was discovered by Johnny Mercer in mid-1942. Mercer took Williams under his wing and sent her, at his own expense, to a “Hollywood conservatory of music” for vocal studies, with the goal of grooming her for Bobby Sherwood’s orchestra, which Mercer had backed. Under the name “Bonnie Lou,” she sang with Sherwood’s band while it remained on the West Coast, leaving when it headed east.
Williams next joined Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra in April 1944, where she began to be billed by her full name. While with the Dorsey, she fell in love with the band’s trombonist Benny Benson, and the two were married on January 20, 1945 before he left for the army. Williams remained with the orchestra until mid-1945.
After leaving Dorsey, Williams joined Bob Crosby’s new post-war band in late 1945, staying until early 1946 when she signed a solo recording contract with Black and White Records. She released two sides on the indie label that year, “You Haven’t Changed At All” and “Love on a Greyhound Bus,” before joining the financially disastrous tour of Jerry Colonna’s entertainment unit in June 1946. The tour drew such a small crowd at each performance that its promoters quit the business after only two shows to avoid further losses.
Williams subbed for Patti Clayton on Your Hit Parade in August 1948. That same month, she joined Charlie Barnet’s orchestra only to see him quit right after her arrival, handing over leadership to Bob Dawes. She remained with Dawes through at least the end of the year. In 1949, Williams recorded a duet with Brad Gordon on the new indie Kem label and also recorded for Axel Stordahl’s orchestra on Columbia. In 1950, she provided vocals for Gordon Jenkins’ orchestra on Decca and went on to sing for Jenkins on several more recordings through 1955. She also dubbed vocals for a dozen Warner Brothers films from 1949 to 1957.
In her later years, Williams worked as an administrative assistant at airline music programming service Music in the Air. She passed away on March 4, 1986, age 60, from cancer.
William’s obituary stated that she was 58 when she passed away in March 1986, which would have given her a birth year of either late 1927 or early 1928. However, Williams was said to be 16 years old when Mercer discovered her in mid-1942, which would have made her birth year either late 1925 or early 1926. ↩︎