André Watts, a classical pianist who rose to prominence at the age of 16 thanks to performances under Leonard Bernstein’s command and who maintained his celebrity for more than a half-century with his dazzling dexterity and rare charisma, died July 12 at his home in Bloomington, Indiana. He was 77.
Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, where Mr. Watts had joined the faculty in 2004, confirmed his death. Joan Watts, his wife, stated that the cause was prostate cancer.
Mr. Watts, the son of an African American soldier and a World War II Hungarian refugee, was widely regarded as one of the first Black classical artists to achieve international acclaim.
He, for one, rejected the designations “Black” and “White” “they’re both inaccurate,” he claimed and stated that “a person’s color should be recognized as a means of physical description, and then dismissed.”
Mr. Watts grew up in West Germany, where his father was stationed by the United States Army, and grew up listening to classical music. His mother played the piano and instilled in him a love of Franz Liszt, the Hungarian composer whose pieces were Mr. Watts’ calling cards later in life.