Iris Williams has come a long way ~ but then she’s had to make a longer journey than most of us. This does not only mean the trip from her home in Wales to New York ~ but life’s journey . . . one which has taken her from a children’s home in the Rhondda to an international career as a singer of huge distinction.
Iris left school at fifteen to work in a glove factory. Not exactly a flying start in life. . . but she had a love which turned into a passion, which turned into a career ~ music. Iris could sing… and spent many hours in Wales singing in church choirs, and eventually, with the help of several people in the valleys, in particular, Iris Llewellyn, (her music teacher) she achieved a scholarship to the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Iris returned to the RWCMD in 1996 to be honoured as a Fellow of the College.
Iris’ singing has taken her around the world. That clear, distinctive voice has entertained royalty, presidents, troops in Belize, Northern Ireland, and Iris was the first female entertainer to go to the Falkland Islands 25 years ago… and has given over 300 Combined Services Entertainment performances overall (was the first female artiste to entertain the troops in the Falkland Islands) ~ as well as concerts to fans everywhere; from the cabaret spots of NY, to Hollywood, to London and Wales.
Iris’ first major success in Wales was Pererin Wyf, the Welsh version of Amazing Grace. Her recording of He Was Beautiful, earned her a gold and platinum disc, and an invitation by HM The Queen to perform at her annual Royal Variety Performance. There followed fourteen Royal Performances as well as numerous awards and accolades over the ensuing years.
In May 1999, Iris was featured in the televised Gala Concert for the National Assembly of Wales, in that same year Iris was a headliner in the 50th Anniversary celebration of the RWCMD. This was followed by a BBC-TV series entitled IRIS WILLIAMS Songbook. Two television specials starring Iris were aired in the UK in 2002; Iris Williams Echoes the Life of Mabel Mercer for the BBC and Portread for S4C. Iris continues to be the guest artiste with many Choirs and Symphony Orchestras.
Her musical selection of the classic American standards has made her a popular favourite in the US as well as the UK. Iris has had numerous critically acclaimed engagements at the famed Oak Room in the Algonquin Hotel in NY, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in LA and at the Cinegrill in Hollywood. Iris is a regular guest artiste on various luxury Cruise Liners, and during her lengthy career has worked with; Sir Harry Secombe, Sir Jimmy Saville, Des O’Connor, Sir Tom Jones, Bob Hope, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Bennett and a host of others. Iris performed for ten years with Bob Hope at President and Mrs. Gerald R. Ford’s Charity Golf tournaments, and Ski Classics as well as the Bing Crosby Golf Classic now run by his wife Katherine. Iris has also helped charities and causes at home in Wales, from the George Thomas Hospice, Ty Hafan, Cardiff Body Positive, Variety Club of South Wales, Children in Need, Rhydyfelin Credit Union and now SAMA 82.
In the New Year’s Honours List 2004, Iris was awarded an O.B.E. for her contributions in the field of music and for her services to charitable institutions around the world. In 2006 Iris was one of the major names to appear at the Brecon International Jazz Festival in a two hour solo concert and was the same week admitted to the Gorsedd of Bards at the National Eisteddfod.
In 2008 Iris was awarded the highest honor presented by the St. David’s Society of New York ~ the William R Hopkins Award for her contributions in the field of music and charitable institutions around the world.
Also, in 2008 Iris was made an Honorary Member of the Treorchy Male Voice Choir, a rare honor since Iris is the only female Honorary Member of a Male Voice Choir in Wales.
For someone who had such a difficult start in life, who could, perhaps, have been forgiven for having a jaundiced view of the world, Iris has given so much, and delighted so many.
Yes, she’s come a long way . . . and she has a long way to go as the concerts, cabaret, luxury liners, recordings, media appearances and not least the energetic charity work shows no sign of abating.
Iris is a very special daughter of Wales.