Bonnie Lou Williams

aka Bonnie Lou

Photo of Bonnie Lou Williams

A protégé of Johnny Mercer, vocalist Bonnie Lou Williams got her start at a young age in the early 1940s. She worked with three name orchestras up through the middle of the decade before embarking on a mildly successful solo career that saw her on radio and recordings. Williams continued singing into at least the late 1950s.

Born in Seattle, Williams intially grew up in Bellingham, Washington. The family had moved to Everett by 1935 and then to Los Angeles by 1940. Often described as “tall” or “leggy,” 16-year-old Williams was discovered by Johnny Mercer in mid-1942. Mercer took Williams under his wing and sent her, at his own expense, to a “Hollywood conservatory of music” for vocal studies, with the goal of grooming her for Bobby Sherwood’s orchestra, which Mercer had backed. Under the name “Bonnie Lou,” she sang with Sherwood’s band while it remained on the West Coast, leaving when it headed east.

Williams next joined Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra in April 1944, where she began to be billed by her full name. While with the Dorsey, she fell in love with the band’s trombonist, Walter Benson, and the two were married on January 20, 1945, before he left for the army. Williams remained with the orchestra until mid-1945.

After leaving Dorsey, Williams joined Bob Crosby’s new post-war band in late 1945, staying until early 1946 when she signed a solo recording contract with Black and White Records. She released two sides on the indie label that year, “You Haven’t Changed At All” and “Love on a Greyhound Bus,” before joining the financially disastrous tour of Jerry Colonna’s entertainment unit in June 1946. The tour drew such a small crowd at each performance that its promoters quit the business after only two shows to avoid further losses.

Williams gave birth to a son in June 1947 and took time off from singing. She had returned to activity by mid-1948 when she subbed for Patti Clayton on Your Hit Parade in August 1948. That same month, she joined Charlie Barnet’s orchestra only to see him quit right after her arrival, handing over leadership to Bob Dawes. She remained with Dawes through at least the end of the year. In 1949, Williams recorded a duet with Brad Gordon on the new indie Kem label and also recorded for Axel Stordahl’s orchestra on Columbia. In 1950, she provided vocals for Gordon Jenkins’ orchestra on Decca and went on to sing for Jenkins on several more recordings through 1955. She also dubbed vocals for a dozen Warner Bros. films from 1949 to 1957.

Williams gave birth to a second son in June 1955. The child lived only two days. Walter Benson died in 1964. In her later years, Williams worked as an administrative assistant at airline music programming service Music in the Air. She passed away on March 4, 1986, age 60, from cancer.[1]


  1. William’s obituary stated that she was 58 when she passed away, however she was actually 60. ↩︎


  1. “Bonnie Lou Williams.” IMDb. Accessed 17 Feb. 2018.
  2. “Johnny Mercer Discovery.” Down Beat 15 Jul. 1942: 8.
  3. “Bonnie Lou Is New TD Chirp.” Down Beat 15 May 1944: 4.
  4. “T. Dorsey Plans 12-Concert Tour.” Billboard 27 May 1944: 13.
  5. “Bonnie Lou.” Down Beat 1 Jun. 1944: 4.
  6. “T. D. 6G in St. Louis.” Billboard 17 Jun. 1944: 19.
  7. “Strictly Ad Lib.” Down Beat 15 Dec. 1944: 5.
  8. “Vaudeville Reviews: Capitol, New York.” Billboard 30 Dec. 1944: 17.
  9. “T.D. Male Voice Still Unsettled.” Billboard 10 Feb. 1945: 15.
  10. “Tied Notes.” Down Beat 1 Mar. 1945: 10.
  11. “Vaudeville Reviews: Palace, Cleveland.” Billboard 28 Apr. 1945: 31.
  12. “Bob Crosby Sets Band On Coast.” Down Beat 1 Dec. 1945: 13.
  13. “Music As Written.” Billboard 9 Feb. 1946: 20.
  14. “Record Reviews.” Billboard 16 Feb. 1946: 37.
  15. Thomas, Bob. “In Hollywood with Bob Thomas.” The Orange Leader [Orange, Texas] 8 May 1946: 1.
  16. “New Records.” Billboard 11 May 1946: 33.
  17. “Butterfield Gets Colonna Show.” Down Beat 20 May 1946: 2.
  18. “In Short.” Billboard 22 Jun. 1946: 43.
  19. “Colonna-Butterfield Unit Drops Omelets in K.C., St. Louis, Etc.” Billboard 27 Jul. 1946: 38.
  20. Ronan. Eddie. “On the Sunset Vine.” Down Beat 25 Aug. 1948: 9.
  21. “Dawes to Play at Xmas Dance.” The Santa Monica City College Corsair 8 Dec. 1948: 1.
  22. “'Winter magic' Features Bob Dawes' Band.” The Santa Monica City College Corsair 15 Dec. 1948: 1.
  23. “Richards Builds New Kem Label.” Billboard 23 Jul. 1949: 20.
  24. “Coinmen You Know.” Billboard 17 Sep. 1949: 104.
  25. “Record Reviews.” Billboard 3 Dec. 1949: 106.
  26. Emge, Charles. “Movie Music.” Down Beat 13 Jan. 1950: 4.
  27. “Record Reviews.” Billboard 22 Apr. 1950: 124.
  28. “Record Reviews.” Billboard 17 Feb. 1951: 73.
  29. “Record Reviews.” Billboard 28 May 1955: 45.
  30. “Lifelines.” Billboard 29 Mar. 1986: 74.
  31. “Washington, County Birth Registers, 1873-1965,” FamilySearch ( : Thu Mar 07 20:12:38 UTC 2024), Entry for Bonnie Lou Schmitz and Frank James Schmitz, 25 Jun 1925.
  32. “United States Census, 1930,” FamilySearch ( : Sun Mar 10 15:16:57 UTC 2024), Entry for Frank J Schmitz and Emily A Schmitz, 1930.
  33. “United States Census, 1940,” FamilySearch ( : Sun Mar 10 04:22:32 UTC 2024), Entry for Frank Schmitz and Emily Schmitz, 1940.
  34. “California Birth Index, 1905-1995,&dquo; database, FamilySearch ( : 27 November 2014), Terry Curtis Benson, 06 Jun 1947; citing Los Angeles, California, United States, Department of Health Services, Vital Statistics Department, Sacramento.
  35. “United States Census, 1950,” FamilySearch ( : Fri Oct 06 12:19:03 UTC 2023), Entry for Walter R Benson and Bonnie L Benson, May 18, 1950.
  36. “California Birth Index, 1905-1995,” database, FamilySearch ( : 27 November 2014), Schmitz in entry for Ress Allen Benson, 16 Jun 1955; citing Los Angeles, California, United States, Department of Health Services, Vital Statistics Department, Sacramento.
  37. “California Death Index, 1940-1997,” database, FamilySearch ( : 26 November 2014), Schmitz in entry for Ress Allen Benson, 18 Jun 1955; Department of Public Health Services, Sacramento.
  38. “United States Social Security Death Index,” database, FamilySearch ( : 11 January 2021), Bonnie Benson, Mar 1986; citing U.S. Social Security Administration, Death Master File, database (Alexandria, Virginia: National Technical Information Service, ongoing).
  39. “California Death Index, 1940-1997,” database, FamilySearch ( : 26 November 2014), Bonnie Lou Benson, 04 Mar 1986; Department of Public Health Services, Sacramento.