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Joe Williams

Joe Williams was the last great big-band singer, a smooth baritone who graced the rejuvenated Count Basie Orchestra during the 1950s and captivated audiences well into the '90s. Born in Georgia, he moved to Chicago with his grandmother at the age of three. Reunited with his mother, she taught him to play the piano and took him to the symphony. Though tuberculosis slowed him down as a teenager, Williams began performing at social events and formed his own gospel vocal quartet, the Jubilee Boys.

By the end of the '30s he had made the transition to the Chicago club scene, and appeared with orchestras led by Jimmie Noone and Les Hite during the late '30s. He sang with Coleman Hawkins and Lionel Hampton during the early '40s, and toured with Andy Kirk & His Clouds of Joy during the mid-'40s (making his first recording with that band). Still, lingering illness kept him sidelined from active touring, and he worked as a theater doorman and door-to-door cosmetics salesman before his first minor hit for Checker, 1952's "Every Day I Have the Blues."

Finally, at the age of 35, he got his big break when in 1954 he was hired as the male vocalist for Count Basie's Orchestra. He soon helped audiences forget the absence of Basie's long-time vocalist, Jimmy Rushing. Indeed, he did more than just pull his own weight during the '50s; he became a major star in his own right and helped revive the lagging fortunes of the Basie band. His first (and best) LP, Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings, appeared in 1955, containing definitive versions of "Every Day I Have the Blues" (already his signature song) and "Alright, Okay, You Win." "Every Day" hit number two on the R&B charts, and sparked another LP -- 1957's The Greatest! Count Basie Swings/Joe Williams Sings Standards -- spotlighting Williams' command of the traditional pop repertory. Even while performing and touring the world with Basie during the late '50s, Williams made his solo-billed debut LP for Regent in 1956, and followed it with a trio of albums for Roulette.

Despite an inevitable parting from Basie in 1961, Williams stayed close to the fold, working in a small group led by Basieite Harry "Sweets" Edison, then formed his own quartet in 1962. For his RCA debut, 1963's Jump for Joy, the lineup included jazz greats Thad Jones, Clark Terry, Snooky Young, Kenny Burrell, Oliver Nelson, Urbie Green, and Phil Woods. He recorded two more albums during the year -- At Newport '63 and Me and the Blues -- and hit another peak in 1966 with an LP for Blue Note, Presenting Joe Williams and the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra. Though he toured consistently during the '70s, his recordings fell off until a pair of mid-'80s LPs for Delos, Nothin' But the Blues and I Just Wanna Sing. After the former won a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, he landed a recurring role on the popular television series The Cosby Show and signed a contract for Verve.

Live appearances at Vine St. resulted in material for his first two Verve albums, Every Night: Live at Vine St. and Ballad and Blues Master. Still in extraordinarily fine voice, Williams recorded two more albums for Verve and toured constantly during the '90s. He appeared again with Count Basie's Orchestra (led by Frank Foster), released several albums through Telarc, and remained one of the most talented jazz vocalists in the world right up until his death in 1999. ~ John Bush, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

Comments

My favorite male blues singer!
prerock
jgoodrn
I agree with Karen, I wish I could have been in his audience. You can understand every word, they mean something and it's so smooth....I' m a 1960's girl stuck in the 40-50's era.
Joe set the standard ,simply the greatest jazz singer ever. Dennyfly
donwon683
want one song by Joe Williams song Before you
Big Joe could sing with the best of them. Smooth or gritty he got it done right and with the Count swingin' behind him there was no way the band could loose!
paddonar
Does ANYONE crosscheck Pandora data? ...track from The Irving Berlin Songbook, that is pictured.... Joe Williams sings 'How Deep is the Ocean' ....3 little-known guys listed as songwriters!
listened to Big Joe when I was a kid-- he made you want to jump for joy all of the time !!!!!
msa7488
VERY SMOOTH
bluesdance
Nothin' But The Blues -- one of the greatest albums ever
I grew up with the sound of the '50s Basie Band & Joe Williams. I was just a little kid in the mid-late '60s, but my dad was a big band fanatic & a hi-fi nut, & Basie was one of his faves. I got to hear it all via Dynaco tube components & huge JBL speakers. The house was always full of music. Trying to do the same for my 6-yr old daughter- So she grows up with an appreciation for classic jazz & the great standards, rather than simply whatever happens to be the passing-fad crap music of her ge
and the most handsome of men. im secure about my sexuality
when i heard him him sing on the cosby show, i thought this man should be a professional singer, little did i know- then i heard him about 2 yrs ago on the radio and fell in love with his voice; didn't put the 2 together. now i'm in the know, his voice is heaven !
What an awesome voice with perfect phrasing and tone. They don't make um like Joe anymore. Wished I could've seen him in person....
Mr Williams was a sole mover.
I had the sour plusher to hear him with The Count in Milford famous Cristal Room and our own Mr Boots Masullie The GRATEST FOR EVER
Mr Boots Masullie
This "MAN" brings it; has for a long time. Joe doesn't need a band behind him because of his phrasing and tonality. I enjoy hearing his voice range change "As Time Goes By"; great talent.
I love his phasing and they way he works a lyric. He was a class act all the way.
brucehowardm o r r i s
"I used to be so fancy free"-Saw Joe at the Playboy Jazz Festivle. Could not get enough. Saw him live 2x at the Vine St. Bar and Grill. The best up close and personal vocalist I've ever heard. Incredibly humble man. I stumbled back stage at Vine St. during one of his breaks to let him know how honored I was to meet him in person. Shook my hand and thanked me like I was the only person at the place. Never forget-God Bless
ken.zaun
Saturday night at Birdland with The Count and Joe Williams - Best show ever!
fran787
love this stuff...
Music is so great shes warm amd wonderful
bryan8990
Smoothe! I was working at the computer and heard this mellow, clear and new voice ( at least to me - I like the old blues, broadway-ish singers). Joe seems to be a cross between Nat and .... someone else. I'll have to put Joe on my QuickMix...
ebeardster
I have loved this man from the first time I heard him.
ackerbex3
Fun to listen to him trade scats w/ Ella!!
muzicricky
I'M STILL EXPLORING MR. WILLIAMS MUSIC SPORADICALLY , BUT MY FAVORITE SONG OF HIS (ONE OF MANY) IS "EARLY IN THE MORNING."
LOVE JOE AND WISH HE WERE HERE WITH US, BEST VOICE IN A LONG LONG TIME. A ONE OF A KIND PERFORMER, EASY TO LISTEN TO AND FUN TO SEE, GREAT SONGS, LIKE THE "CREEPING" SONG. WISH i COULD REMEMBER THE WHOLE TITLE,
cpeterson920
In the discography I would include "Basie Swings, Williams Sings".

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