Spencer Cohen – On Sunday, December 9th, the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York hosted a special event highlighting the career of songwriter Paul Williams, and his work with Jim Henson and the Muppets.
Being a fan of Paul Williams, I knew I had to be there. As a musician, I have covered “Rainbow Connection” and “When the River Meets the Sea” at my coffee house gigs. Clearly, his songs have immensely impacted me.
The program featured Paul Williams himself being interviewed by Craig Shemin, President of The Jim Henson Legacy.
Throughout the interview, musical numbers from Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas, The Muppet Movie, The Muppet Christmas Carol, and A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa were shown on the museum’s movie screen. In addition, video material that I had never before seen was shown, including a duet of Gonzo and Williams performing “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday” and a duet of Williams and Kenny Ascher performing “Rainbow Connection.”
Followed by the interview, Williams participated in a Q&A with the event’s audience. Questions ranged from his work with Daft Punk to his time working as an actor on the 1977 film, Smokey and the Bandit.
Responding to a young child’s question, Williams said that while he loves Kermit, his favorite Muppet is Gonzo. “He’s like a mentor,” Williams said regarding the long nosed Muppet.
Following the event, Williams was kind and generous to sign copies of the recently released Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas album and take photos with fans.
I learned some very interesting facts about the legendary songwriter that I had not known going into the program. For instance, Williams started out as an actor before turning to songwriting as his career. While I had seen Williams in movies such as Smokey and the Bandit and 2017’s Baby Driver, I thought he had always been both a songwriter and actor. But this is not the case.
I also learned that Paul Williams was the one who came up with the idea for A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa. One night, Williams was lying in bed when he came up with the idea for this Christmas special, which he then went on to pitch.
As both a Muppet fan and a musician, I can tell you that this was an incredibly wonderful event. Special thanks to Paul Williams, Craig Shemin, and the Museum of the Moving Image for making this an unforgettable day.