William Cosby entered the accordion world at the age of 7, at a time that is called the Golden Age of the Accordion. At the time, the accordion was more than a popular instrument; it was a presence that permeated 1950’s American culture. It was also a time when the United States dominated nearly every part of the accordion world.
William attacked his study of the accordion with an unrelenting passion and persistence that has continued throughout his life as a trademark for almost anything of value that earns his attention. His efforts were complimented with the support of his parents who made every effort to ensure he had regular lessons, the best instructors and a succession of accordions that would match his increased physical size and musical requirements. For a family of modest income, it was a considerable investment of money and time.
In retrospect, it all fit together with a perfect synergy. It started with the Bettie Thomas Studio where every weekend was filled with community performances and continued with Glenn Stead with a concentration on the fundamentals of basic musicianship.
A partnership with Tito Giudotti, possibly one of the accordion’s most under-valued geniuses, was intensified with the introduction to the Giulietti free bassetti system accordion in 1961. As one of the first US pioneers on the left hand free bassetti system, William quickly became a muse and life-long friend of Julio Giulietti, one of the world’s most renowned and innovative accordion builders. Inspired by the expanded musical and technical capabilities, Tito composed for William. In response, William pushed the technical limitations of the instrument, and Julio was always making the instruments better. Some details in the evolution of the Giulietti bassettis came from feedback of the early pioneers, like William Cosby and Stephen Dominko.
After Tito and a short period of study with Oakley Yale, Julio insisted that William study with Anthony Galla-Rini. It also came to be a close friendship in addition to a professional collaboration. From Galla-Rini came the attention to detail and appreciation of the accordion’s tone production. But perhaps the most important lesson from Galla-Rini was his role model as the consummate gentleman, always an ambassador for the accordion. William and Tony often performed in concert together and occasionally conducted workshops. Galla-Rini suggested that William also be coached by Donald Balestrieri in the performance of baroque repertoire.
Coming from a family of athletes, competitions were accepted as a natural part of the musical experience. William’s titles include 3 consecutive ATG National titles, two Silver and one Bronze medal in the Coupe Mondiale, 2 National AAA Jazz titles. However, musical competitions were not limited to accordion venues. He was also one of the original winners of the Frank Sinatra Musical Performance Awards at his alma mater, UCLA – an event open to all instruments. Judges in the final rounds included Zubin Meta and Sonny Burke. He was also a winner of UCLA’s Atwater Kent Performance Scholarship Award. Though accordion was not an ‘accepted’ instrument at UCLA, William performed as much as any other music major, often being requested to play for special performances by the Dean of Fine Arts.
While performing in a demanding schedule of accordion performances during his University years, William also formed a rock Band, Music Emporium, playing organ and singing. 40 years later it is considered one of the top (though relatively unknown) psychedelic bands of the era. Everything came to an end when military service interrupted his musical life in Los Angeles.
Faced with the draft, William went to the United States Military Academy Band as an accordion soloist in 1969. In short time, he was named the Instructor of Cadet Music, received a direct commission, and became the Music Director and Conductor of the West Point Glee Club. He continued playing accordion until 1978, when he abruptly stopped; eventually he sold his two prized Giulietti Super Continentals.
In 2009, 30 years later, he started playing again. It started when he became the curator of a Rocker Switch Excelsior that had been the prized possession of General William Knowlton -- who had been the Superintendent at West Point when William arrived in 1969. The General was an avid enthusiast. As part of his new journey, he has completed a book that tells of his accordion adventures, why he left, and the experience of returning. From the day he put on the General’s Excelsior he has not stopped playing.
William Cosby brings a wide range of musical styles to his performances on accordion. His repertoire includes classical, jazz, and pop styles in addition to selections representative of the accordion’s greatest performers over the past 80 years.
So after 30 years, what does he bring to his performances? Much is his heritage with the Golden Age of accordion – having shared in the lives and experiences of much of the accordion’s royalty. But beneath are other experiences that few know of. He studied of piano with two of this country’s greatest Russian pedagogues, often saying this is where his real understanding of technique comes from. He has conducted major symphony orchestras, symphonic bands, and written arrangements for singers from the Met. He has created tracks for music videos, produced demos of new groups for Warner and Atlantic. He was literally a rock and roll star. He has a passion for most all things technical and audio recording. All these things are part of his performances.
But one thing for certain, when he puts on his accordion, he has come home.
And in this part of his journey, the days of creating boundaries or expectations for either the instrument or for him are gone.