Nisha Rathode (Editor)

Toni Willé

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Genres  Pop, country
Website  Toniwilleonline.com
Labels  EMI Bovema

Years active  1963–present
Occupation(s)  Singer-songwriter
Name  Toni Wille
Toni Wille while singing and wearing white blazer and black blouse

Born  26 June 1953 (age 62)Treebeek, Netherlands (1953-06-26)
Associated acts  Zingende Zusjes (Singing Sisters), The BGs from Holland, Sweet Reaction, Pussycat
Role  Vocalist · toniwilleonline.com
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Pussycat singer toni will singing mississippi in nuuk greenland


Toni Willé (full name Antonia Johanna Cornelia Kowalczyk; born 26 June 1953) is a Dutch country pop artist who was lead vocalist of the band, Pussycat.

Contents

Toni Willé in her album cover wearing black leather jacket, white inner top and jeans

Pussycat singers toni will marianne veldpaus betty dragstra


Background

Toni Wille while singing and wearing white blazer and black blouse

She was a blonde with a distinctive gap in her upper front teeth. Toni is the daughter of Marie and Stefan Kowalczyk. Stefan was a Polish miner from Wloszczowa, Poland who came to the Netherlands in 1948 to work in the coal mines after serving in the US Army in Germany.

Childhood

Toni Willé in her blonde hair while wearing beige blazer and white inner top

Toni's biological father died from Hodgkin's disease shortly after her birth when her sisters Marianne was two years old and Betty was only one. Five years later her mother, Marie Verheijen, married Stefan Kowalczyk, the Polish miner who brought up Toni and her sisters. He promoted their music talents. When Toni, Betty and Marianne were six, seven and eight, the family moved to Treebeek, a cityquarter in Brunssum in the south-east Netherlands. At the annual children's festivities of Sinterklaas, he bought them each an acoustic guitar and engaged Keuzenkamp as guitar tutor. With guitars they performed during carnivals, talent scoutings and parties as The Singing Sisters. It was during this time that their characteristic close harmony style singing came into being. Their repertoire initially consisted mostly of German pop songs. However they say, this kind of music soon ended with the arrival of the Beatles. A few years later, Keuzenkamp introduced the sisters to 18-year-old Werner Theunissen, a guitarist from 'The Entertainers' whom he got in touch with through an ad in the papers. Werner taught them a lot of new guitar chords and acquainted them with contemporary pop music. It was then that they became a proper girl band with Betty on solo guitar, Marianne on bass, Toni on vocals and a friend Tonny Jeroense on drums.

Musical career

Toni Willé in her blonde hair and sparkly black outfit

Toni's career as lead vocalist of Pussycat started with her two older siblings, Betty and Marianne Kowalczyk as The Singing Sisters (Zingende Zusjes) in 1963.

Toni Willé in her messy bun while wearing dark blue coat and black inner top

When the beat-era came, The Singing Sisters changed their style. It was around this time they introduced a female drummer, Tonny Jeroense, and began to call themselves 'The BGs' or 'The Beat Girls from Holland', one of the first female groups in the Netherlands. They sang Bee Gees and Motown songs with close harmony and so people referred to them as the Dutch Beegees. They practiced in the garage under their house. The sisters recollect as those days being the best time of their lives. They even performed in the French part of Belgium. To make their travelling easier, their parents bought them a minivan along with some music equipment.

Toni Willé wearing black leather jacket, white inner top and jeans

A few years later, they recruited male members to the band. In 1973, the new ensemble led by guitar teacher Werner Theunissen was renamed 'Sweet Reaction'. The members now included Toni and her two sisters along with Lou Willé (guitarist from a band called Ricky Rendall and His Centurions), and Hans Lutjens (drummer from a band called Scum). Werner, their composer continued writing songs with three part vocals. In the same year, Sweet Reaction released their first single "Tell Alain" on the 'Telstar label owned by Johnny Hoes. Although the single was unsuccessful as it didn't sell well, they ended up performing it on Eddy Becker's 'The Eddy-Go-Round Show'. Apart from Demis Roussos, another guest on that show was Soulful Dynamics which had a big hit with the song "Mademoiselle Ninette" at that time. With their Belgian producers, Toni's band the 'Sweet Reaction' recorded the song "Come Back my Dream", the successor of "Tell Alain". This song achieved reasonable success and acclaim. Soon after this success, Johnny Hoes released "Daddy" under his record label which was their third single in a row. It was around this time the band seemed to urgently need a name change. So when the single "Daddy" was released, underneath the band name on the cover it read in glaring letters "Now Pussycat". After this, Toni went on to record a solo single called "Let me Live my life", backed by "For You" under the moniker 'Sally Lane'. However, this single was not a success either.

Pussycat

In 1975, EMI Bovema took Pussycat under contract with Toni as lead singer along with her two sisters as backing vocalists accompanied by Lou Willé (guitarist), Theo Wetzels (bassist), John Theunissen (guitarist), Theo Coumans (drummer from 1975-1978) and later Hans Lutjens (drummer from 1978). With EMI arranger Eddy Hilberts as producer, the new name Pussycat finally started taking its new shape. Their first hits were all written and composed by Theunissen.

The name Pussycat will forever be linked to the 1975 number 1 hit "Mississippi". Although the band from Limburg, featuring the three sisters had many more hits the following years, "Mississippi" is still considered to be the band's undisputed masterpiece. In 1976 it remained for four weeks at No.1 in Britain (UK Singles Chart) and Germany and from there all over Europe, Latin America, Australia, Africa and Asia. Four million singles were sold in 1976. It was the most sold record in Germany. In Brazil "Mississippi" stayed in the charts for 129 weeks . It became No.1 in 30 countries from Europe to South Africa. More than 5 million copies were sold worldwide. On 5 January 1977, Pussycat was awarded the Conamus Export Prize by the British Ambassador to the Netherlands, Sir John Barnes, for being the first Dutch pop group in the British charts.

Their follow-up Georgie reached at No.4 in the Netherlands, "Smile" (also in 1976) went to No.2 and Broken Souvenir, both became #1 hits in the Top 40. These songs were translated into German for single release in Germany. They also released a German version of "Mississippi". But it did not do as well as the English version. Apart from these songs, they also came out with German versions of "Take Me, Take Me" (Heute Heute Heute) and "Pasadena". With "Same Old Song" and "Doin' La Bamba" both huge hits of the 1980, they were able to get a taste of the old Motown songs once more. During the following 10 years, six albums and 17 singles were produced, all successful.

Pussycat continued to record albums and singles as well as perform all over the world throughout the late 70's and early 80's before breaking up in 1985. Betty focused on raising a family, Marianne became the owner of a bar in Brunssum, and Toni, who has a son and daughter, is the only one who pursued a professional career in music. In 1999, however, the three of them got back together to perform at several reunion concerts. More recently Pussycat contributed to the country band Major Dundee's single "Somewhere Someone" in 2005 and singer Dennis Jones' Dutch reggae cover of their signature hit song "Mississippi" in 2007.

The story behind Mississippi

"Mississippi" was another song composed by Werner Theunissen. It was written in the same vein as "Massachusetts" by the Bee Gees, a song he liked very much. The band started to play the song live for a few months and later they sent a demo of it to EMI Bovema in Heemstede, who were immediately interested. They ended up re-recording the song in the EMI Studio. But this did not work out as planned. Their producer at that time Eddy Hilberts who had success with a repertoire of country songs gave a country like twist to the song. Personally the sisters did not have anything with country music, although influenced by 'The Eagles', they liked country rock.

"Mississippi" was released as a single in April 1975. Initially, it did nothing, until Meta de Vries, the Dutch radio jockey started playing it. She thought Pussycat was an English band. Hans Van Willigenburg played the song on his radio programme as well. During his broadcast, he would play three new songs, after which listeners could vote by postcard which artist should be invited to his studio. They voted for Pussycat. The group also performed the song for the TV show 'Herkent U Deze Tijd' by Kick Stokhuyzen. The same week the single entered the Top 40 in November 1975. The following week, they performed "Mississippi" at the TopPop and a week later, the single had climbed to # 1. Although Toni and Marianne still worked as typists for DSM, they were unable to maintain their jobs as besides the Netherlands, Mississippi had become No. 1 in Germany as well. As their fame grew, the band realized they needed a manager, so their record company got them their new manager Jan Buys.

Oddly enough, at first they did not want to release the single in Germany nor U.K. because of the initial lack of interest. Eventually, the single was released in the U.K. on Sonet, a small record label. In the fall of 1976, the single was number 1 in the UK charts.

In addition to the Netherlands, Germany and U.K., the single was #1 in Austria, Switzerland, Norway and Brazil. Though this song never became a hit in the United States, it was covered by a number of American artists such as Barbara Fairchild and Lucille Starr.

1985 - Going solo

By 1981, it became popular for artists to perform with a tape instead of backing band as this was much cheaper and more attractive for venue owners. So Toni and her sisters had no choice but to part with their backing band reducing the group to only Toni, Betty, Marianne and Toni's husband Lou Willé. Their new producer was now Pim Koopman.

A few more hits and in the meantime, family life started to take effect within the band. Betty had a little child and so had Toni. This was partly the reason they were unable to accept invitations to visit Japan, Australia and Singapore, although they managed to schedule a one-month trip to South Africa. The group finally disbanded in the year 1985.

Toni had a successful solo career covering songs by Chris Rea and Anne Murray on her albums. Three solo albums appeared: "Privilege" in 1985, "Working Girl" in 1987, and "New Words to an Old Love Song" in 1989. She recorded a number of solo albums and recorded duets with famous artists like Marco Bakker, Benny Neyman and Major Dundee Band. She recorded two singles with singer and songwriter Dick Van Altena of Major Dundee Band: "It turned Out To Be You" in 1990 and "Raised on Love" in 1995. In 1999 she recorded "Mama", a single written by Dick Van Altena that appeared on many albums including Diverse Artiesten - De Geschiedenis Van De Limburgse Popmuziek 3, a compilation of songs from Dutch artists from Limburg. The Rarities bonus CD contains part of Toni's solo work. Besides "Love in a Heatwave", the theme of the film De Flat starring Rene Soutendijk, it also contains "Heart Half Empty", the duet with Danny Vera.

In 2007, Toni sang "I Wanna Love You" from her new album "Fantastic Stores" as a duet with Jess Robin on the Slovenian breakfast TV show.

With her album Pussycat - The Collection and More she re-recorded the hits of Pussycat with "I'll be your woman" along with new songs like the ballads "Desperado", "Still on my mind" and the Elkie Brooks hit, "Pearl's a Singer".

Accolades

Toni's first accolade came with Pussycat in 1977, when the band won a Goldener Lowe Award in Germany and subsequently an Edison and a Silver Harp in the Netherlands, awarded to them by the Dutch Ambassador.

Privilege in 1985 was followed by Working Girl in 1987 and New Words to an Old Love Song in 1989 for which the Dutch magazine Country Gazette named her best female country singer of the year and the album became the best country CD of that year. She received the same accolade in 1990, 1991 and 1992. She sang the theme song "Love in a Heatwave" for the movie thriller De Flat in 1994.

Comeback

In 1995 Toni and her sisters appeared on the Single Luck program where they looked back at the success of "Mississippi".

In 2001, they held a reunion show at the Zomerparkfeest in Venlo, to a stubborn crowd of 30,000. In 2005, they get together again to back "Somewhere Someone" for the band Major Dundee's album Young Gods, with whom Toni had performed in 1995. She also features in another song with them titled "You Ain't What You Ain't" from the same album.

In late February 2001 the double CD - 25 Years After Mississippi (25 Jaar Na Mississippi) appeared. It had the hits and best album tracks in chronological order. In March the same year, EMI released on CD all original Pussycat LPs.

In 2004 EMI released Pussycat - The Complete Collection on DVD, a box which contains three CDs and a DVD with all the hits plus extra tracks complemented by a booklet of 40 pages.

In 2007 the sisters backed Dennis Jones' reggae cover of "Mississippi" which was produced by Kees Tel. The sisters also featured in a video clip with him in The Making of Mississippi as well as for the cover version of the same song. In the same year, Toni also met Jones on a radio tour with Radio Nederland Wereldomroep to promote her newly solo album Fantastic Stories as well as "Mississippi", which was Dennis's first single.

Recordings in 2000s

Toni sang "Oh, How I Miss You" with Benny Neyman and recorded the album American Duets with him in 2000. In 2004 she sang "Heart Half Empty" with Danny Vera. She also worked with singer Jo Smeets on a Dutch and English duet mix titled "Maedjes van 50" (Girls in their Fifties) which was included in the Dutch album released in 2009 that featured artists from her native Limburg titled Diverse Artiesten - Limburg Allein Deil 3.

In 2006, she recorded 14 songs for the album "Fantastic Stores", 11 songs for Worlds United in 2009, and a third in 2012 released as a single called "Impressions". dedicated to Werner Theunissen, who died on 18 January 2010, in Great Britain of heart failure.

She recorded an album with Fijian artist Daniel Rae Costello called "Let the World Sing" and released her Fiji tour live concert album on DVD as The Golden Memories Tour, Fiji in 2010. This album contains the song "Impressions" which was the last Theunissen had written for her.

Toni recorded a duet "Our Love is So Big" with Eddy Hilberts, the producer of Pussycat, for his dance album 'Honey come on, Dance with Me' in 2011. The CD was released in July 2013 on iTunes

In 2012, Toni recorded two singles - "Happy" and "What Love can Do" - with songwriter and composer Paul Logister. They were released in August 2013 on iTunes.

At present

Toni lives in Brunssum. She has two children, Nick and Kimberly, and a granddaughter, Genyva.

In October 2006, she performed for 15,000 people at the Köln Arena in Cologne together with Chris Andrews and Harpo. She also gives concerts in countries like Bulgaria, Slovenia and Greece.

On 15 July 2010 she performed in Fiji at two shows organized by Fijian artist Daniel Rae Costello and his band, The Cruzez. One at the Vodafone Arena, Suva and the other at the Denarau Golf and Racquet Club, Nadi, as a part of the Golden Memories Tour concert. She sang "Bad Boy", "Mississippi", "Smile", "Same Old Song" and "Georgie". Costello and The Cruzez played their hits, "Take Me To The Island" and "Samba".

On 12 May 2012, Toni shared stage with George Baker and Jan Keizer & Anny Schilder in "Goue Stemme in Koncert" (Golden Voices in Concert), presented by King Entertainment in the theatre of Moreleta Park in Pretoria, South Africa. She was backed by Dutch vocalists Lana Wolf, Pien Schneider and Ewan Mack. She sang a Pussycat medley for the first time in 15 years since her last visit. She also sang "Mississippi" in celebration of the 35th anniversary of the song.

On 27 September 2013, she returned to South Africa to perform at the Clover Aardklop festival at Potchefstroom. There she entertained the screaming crowds with "Mississippi", "Georgie" and "My Broken Souvenirs" with Steve Hofmeyr, Nadine and other South African singers. On 5 October 2013, she performed at the Stellenbosch Dorpstraat Restaurant Theatre, Western Cape, South Africa with backing vocals from the South African singers.

She took part in the NDR 1 Niedersachsen Oldie Show at Lower Saxony at seven concert halls of Lower Saxony, sharing the stage with Smokie, Middle of the Road, the Tremeloes and the Smashing Picadillys.

Toni's live stage performance on July 12th 2014 at the Americana International Festival, Prestwold Airfield, Loughborough, U.K., one of the longest running tribute to the American dream in entire Europe, met with an enormous cheer. Some of the popular numbers she performed were "Mississippi", "Georgie", "Raised on Love" and "That will be the day" (originally sung by Buddy Holly). Other artists from USA, UK and Europe included Chas'n'dave, The Country Sisters (CZ), Bo Walton, T.Rextasy and Lazy Dog among many others who performed a mixture of Rock 'n' Roll, country, R&B, Blues and Alternative Music from the last five decades.

Albums - Toni Willé

  • Golden Memories Tour, Fiji (2010)
  • Worlds United (2009)
  • Fantastic Stories (2006)
  • Country Duets with Major Dundee (2005)
  • American Duets - Benny Neyman & Willé (2001)
  • New Words to an Old Love Song (1989)
  • Working Girl (1987)
  • Privilège (1985)
  • Top singles - Toni Willé

  • "Happy" (2013)
  • "Impressions: dedicated to composer Werner Theunissen" (2012)
  • "Doin' la Bamba" (2012)
  • "Mississippi" (2012)
  • "I Wanna Love You" (2012)
  • "Dreaming of a Christmas With You" (2012)
  • "Like a Child (Radio Version)" (2012)
  • "Can't Get Over You" (2012)
  • "Fantasy" (2012)
  • "Never Wanna Lose" (2012)
  • "I'm Only Dreaming" (2012)
  • "As Long As You Are Mind (Radio Version)" (2012)
  • "Time Slips Away (Radio Version)" (2012)
  • "Good Times" (2005)
  • "Somewhere Someone / Slow Train - The Major Dundee Band & Toni Willé with Pussycat" (2004)
  • "Heart Half Empty - Danny Vera & Toni Willé" (2003)
  • "What If I Say Goodbye - Benny Neyman & Toni Willé" (2001)
  • "Two Piña Coladas - Benny Neyman & Toni Willé" (2001)
  • "Oh, How I Miss You Tonight - Benny Neyman & Toni Willé " (1999)
  • "Raised on Love - The Major Dundee Band & Toni Willé" (1995)
  • "Love in a Heatwave" (theme song for Motion Picture 'De Flat' - not a single) (1994)
  • "It Turned out to be You / Sometimes Love - The Major Dundee Band & Toni Willé " (1990)
  • "Good Year for the Roses / The Writing on the Wall" (1989)
  • "Roll On / Help Me Make It Through The Night" (1989)
  • "Incredible You / Drift Away" (1989)
  • "Falling in and out of Love / Working Girl" (1987)
  • "Sweet Music to my Soul / What do you do to Me" (1987)
  • "Out of Reach / Have You Ever" (1986)
  • "Every Beat Of My Heart / Sunday Sunrise" (1985)
  • "Hungry Nights / Sail Away" (1985)
  • "We'll Put the World Together Again / What's Forever For - Marco Bakker & Toni Willé" (1982)
  • Compilations - Pussycat feat. Toni Willé

  • De Top 10 Van: Pussycat feat. Toni Willé (2011)
  • Pussycat - The Complete Collection (2004)
  • Hollands Glorie: Pussycat feat. Toni Willé (2001)
  • 25 Jaar Na Mississippi: Pussycat feat. Toni Willé (2001)
  • The Very Best of Pussycat: Pussycat feat. Toni Willé (1996)
  • The Collection & More: Pussycat feat. Toni Willé (1994)
  • Albums - Pussycat

  • Pussycat - First Of All (1976)
  • Pussycat - Souvenirs (1977)
  • Pussycat - Wet Day In September (1978)
  • Pussycat - Simply To Be With You (1979)
  • Pussycat - Blue Lights (1981)
  • Pussycat - After All (1983)
  • Vinyl singles - Sweet Reaction

  • "Come back my dream / Call me Maria" (1970
  • "Tell Alain / If it's only love" (1971)
  • "Daddy / Tell Alain" (1975)
  • "Daddy / It's long ago" (1977)
  • Pussycat singles in the German charts

    *=Airplay Charts

    Songs

    MissisisippiFirst of All · 1976
    My Broken SouvenirSouvenirs · 1977
    SmileFirst of All · 1976

    References

    Toni Willé Wikipedia