The American musician, composer, scholar and music educator, Willard (Bill) A. Palmer, was the son of Willard Aldrich Palmer, Sr. and Alma Ophelia Crawford Palmer. He was a child prodigy. At 13, he played the piano on the radio. He studied both piano and accordion which were to form the basis of his musical endeavors. He attended Whitworth College in Brookhaven, Mississippi and Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, where he continued to play the accordion and piano on radio shows and in ensembles on and off campus.
During World War II, Willard A. Palmer joined the Army Air Corps and was stationed in San Antonio. Here, he taught Navigation, Physics, Mathematics and German, in addition to performing on accordion as the soloist with a number of prominent local ensembles. His subsequent accordion career may be divided into three segments - performer, composer and educator. In each area, he distinguished himself sufficiently so that others might have called it a full, successful career in itself. But Palmer always went on to do more.
After the war, Willard A. Palmer and his former student, Bill Hughes joined forces. They can be credited with the high point in accordion performance in the USA. Audiences will recall their white-tie-and-tails performances as they played one prestigious engagement after another in the 1950's and 1960's. They were the ultimate inspiration to serious accordionists of the day. Palmer collaborated with Hughes in producing a series of accordion method books which have had world wide impact. Theirs was, and still is, the largest-selling and most successful accordion course on the market. Sales soared like a rocket and ran into the millions, making the duo the cornerstone of the Alfred Publishing Co. empire.
As an educator, Willard A. Palmer was ahead of his time - instrumental in carving an indisputable niche for the accordion at the university level. He and Hughes took the accordion beyond mere college acceptance, into the realm of establishing an actual accordion department within the University of Houston, where they were faculty members. They pioneered the accordion's acceptance as a fully accredited applied major, enabling young accordionists to earn both Bachelor's and Master's degrees with their instrument. In 1946, the first such study program to be offered at the college level in the USA (and most of the world), was available in Houston under the aegis of the accordion community's greatest educators, Palmer and Hughes. Students of their program comprise a "Who's Who for the accordion field in English-speaking countries, much the same as Hohner's Trossingen (Germany) did for acccordion education in Europe. The actual first college level accordion program in the United States was in 1937 at Oklahoma City University with instructor Louis Ronchetto.)
Palmer and Hughes formed the "Concert Trio" with virtuoso contrabassist Len Manno, creating a unique blend of instrument voices which critics hailed as a new accordion standard. They did hundreds of concert appearances annually. They also founded the "Palmer-Hughes Accordion Symphony", a superb orchestra which appeared at Carnegie Hall in New York. Both the "Concert Trio" and the "Accordion Symphony" captivated audiences with classical works and the melodies of Broadway musicals.
During his period as a professional accordionist, Willard A. Palmer sought to perfect his yet-evolving instrument and contributed significantly to the development of the stradella-free bass "convertor" accordion. He designed the "Palmer Emperor Convertor", and collaborated with a major accordion manufacturer to achieve the realization of his creative ideas. As noted educators, he and Hughes also designed over a dozen student instruments which conformed to the educational requirements of their courses. In 18 years as a faculty member of the University of Houston, Palmer taught music history, music literature and theory, in addition to all phases of accordion study. He earned Ph.D. degrees in music education and musicology. He was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Humanities by Whitworth College in 1971 and the degree of Doctor of Music by Millsaps College in 1983.
Willard W. Palmer eventually became one of the most important editors of keyboard music in the United States. His editions of works of the masters are highly acclaimed and respected in the most elite music circles. Palmer is noted especially for his painstaking detail and care in the scholarly researching of original editions. He became Alfred Publishing Company's Senior Editor in 1964, researching the original manuscripts of the great masters of keyboard literature, with special emphasis on the study of performance practises in the Baroque, Classic and Romantic eras. He achieved recognition as the leading authority on Baroque ornamentation and lectured on the subject at various colleges, universities and music festivals throughout the country. Many of Palmer's works were translated into German, Japanese, French, Dutch and Spanish, greatly broadening the scope of his impact on world music education. He originated the "Alfred Masterworks Edition" for piano and contributed over 100 volumes to this scholarly series. With Morton Manus, president of Alfred Publishing Company and Dr. Amanda Vick Lethco, Professor of Piano Pedagogy at the University of Texas at Austin, he co-authored the widely accepted piano method, "Alfred's Basic Piano Library."
While achieving accolades for his educational works for other instruments, Willard W. Palmer remained a steadfast supporter of his beloved accordion and retained membership in many of the accordion organizations. In 1995, the American Accordionists' Association brought its Festival to Houston, where Palmer resided, to pay tribute to the man who did so much for the accordion. Unfortunately his health was failing, but he rallied to enjoy the weekend gala for which the accordion community joined forces.
Willard A. Palmer's revolutionary teaching principles were reflected in 789 of his published works, which included an accordion method, several piano methods, a method for Hammond Chord Organ, a guitar method, hundreds of solo pieces and many choral works.