Born in Nuremberg, Germany, André Watts was a piano prodigy. Watts received his first piano lessons from his mother after deciding to discontinue his initial studies of the violin. When the family relocated to Philadelphia, he began playing with the Philadelphia Orchestra at the age of 9 and also received training at the Philadelphia Academy of Music. He made his New York Philharmonic debut at age 16, under the auspices of Leonard Bernstein. His performance career continues today - more than sixty years after his first recital - and in 2004 he joined the piano faculty of the Jacobs School of Music as the Jack I. and Dora B. Hamlin Endowed Chair of Piano.
André Watts is recognized as "a legendary statesmen of this art form" and "a piano superstar," celebrated across the globe as a musical genius. "His name should be Kilowatts. He puts on an electrifying display of pianistic virtuosity, and he seems to have the power of a thousand ordinary pianists." At age 16, Watts won a 1962 competition to play in Leonard Bernstein's televised Young People's Concert series with the New York Philharmonic. A short time later, Watts was called by Bernstein at the last minute to replace Glenn Gould, who was too ill to make a scheduled New York Philharmonic performance. Watts's resulting solo performance on New Year's Day in 1963 was "enrapturing, inspiring immediate worldwide acclaim." Watts has given concerts in every major city with top orchestras around the world, including the Berlin and Israel Philharmonics, the London Orchestra, and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in Carnegie Hall, in addition to regular appearances with the Chicago, St. Louis, Houston and Indianapolis orchestras. By age 20, he was fully booked for 150-concert performance seasons three years in advance.
Appearing on numerous programs produced by PBS, the BBC, and Arts & Entertainment Network, Watts "changed the face of classical music and the definition of a concert pianist." Described as "a keyboard athlete of undisputed superiority," his 1976 recital, aired on PBS Live from Lincoln Center, was the first full length recital broadcast nationally in the history of television, and he was a featured performer on the hit children's series Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. Watts is a "prolific recording artist" included among his discography are works by Gershwin, Chopin, Liszt and Tchaikovsky for CBS Masterworks, and recordings featuring the concertos of Liszt, MacDowell, Tchaikovsky and Saint-Saens on the Telarc label. He is included in the Great Pianists of the 20th Century series for Philips, and in 2016, SONY Classical released Andre Watts- The Complete Columbia Album Collection.
At age 26, Watts was the youngest person ever to receive an Honorary Doctorate from Yale University; he has since received six other honorary degrees from Julliard, Albright College, Brandeis University, Trinity College, John Hopkins, and the University of Pennsylvania. He is a Grammy winner ("Most Promising New Classical Recording Artist" 1964) and Emmy nominee ("Outstanding Individual Achievement in Cultural Programming" 1995), he also received the George Peabody Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Music in America (1990). The Democratic Republic of the Congo awarded Watts the Order of the Zaire, an honorific knighthood, and he received one of the most significant awards for American instrumentalists, the Avery Fisher Prize (1988), given by Lincoln Center. In 2011, Watts received the National Medal of Arts from the President of the United States (Barack Obama), and in 2014 he was inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame. "Mr. Watts communicates. He has that kind of personal magic that makes an Event of a concert…It cannot be taught, 'tis mysterious transmission from stage to audience, and Mr. Watts has it in very large measure."