William Kapell was one of the most promising American pianists of the postwar generation, producing a few recordings that have attained legendary status after his untimely death.
He studied in New York with Dorothea Anderson la Follett, and then at the Philadelphia Conservatory with Olga Samaroff. He went to the Juilliard School when she relocated there. He won the Philadelphia Orchestra's youth competition and the Naumberg Award in 1941. He debuted in New York through his prize from the Naumberg Foundation; this debut recital won him the Town Hall Award for the outstanding concert of the year by an artist under 30.
A national recital career quickly developed, leading to a recording contract with RCA Victor's Red Seal records. One of his enthusiasms was for the recently composed Piano Concerto in D flat major by Soviet composer Aram Khachaturian, which he frequently played. Because it is an extroverted and flashy work, he gained a reputation as a specialist in such music. His recorded legacy shows that he performed in the appropriate style from graceful renditions of Mozart to powerful Prokofiev.
After World War II, he expanded his touring to cover the world. It was on his return from a tour of Australia that his airplane crashed into King's Mountain near San Francisco.