One of the greatest male singers of the past 50 years, Joe Williams performed exquisitely whether he is singing pop tunes, standards, romantic ballads or down-home blues.
Joe Williams was one of the few vocal artists who received uniform praise from critics as well as fellow artists. Jazz piano great George Shearing says this of Williams, "One of my very favorite human beings and favorite singers are one and the same person: Joe Williams. It has been a joy to work with him whenever possible." Though critics have called him a "living legend" and "the great-est voice alive, Mr. Williams is not one to rest on his laurels. "Every accolade is an encouragement for me to do even better next time," said Williams. "I don't know that I have reached an apex yet in my career."
In June of 1991, the Society of Singers, whose Board of Directors is a virtual Who's Who of American vocalists, honored Joe Williams for his distinguished career. The tribute, "For the Love of Joe," was held in his hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada, and included presentations and performances by such artists as Henry Mancini, Nancy Wilson, Vikki Carr, Billy Eckstine, Della Reese and many more.
Born in Cordele, Georgia, in 1918, Joe Williams' early years were not easy. While still a child, he and his mother left his father behind and moved to Chicago to escape racism of the South in the 1930s. At age 10, Williams worked odd jobs to help support himself and his mother. During that time, many great jazz and blues artists such as Pha Terrell, Andy Kirk, Dan Grissom, Jimmy Grissom, Herb Jeffries, Joe Turner, Jimmy Rushing and Nat King Cole influenced Williams.
It was in the black ghetto of Chicago's South Side that Joe Williams first connected with the Blues. At age 17, he got his first professional experience singing with the Johnny Long Orchestra. Later, he worked with Erskine Tate and New Orleans clarinetist Jimmy Noone. When Jimmy Noone moved to the West Coast, Joe joined the Coleman Hawkins big band. After performing as a solo act, Williams joined the Lionel Hampton band in 1943. In Hampton's band, Williams worked alongside of legendary vocalist Dinah Washington.
In 1954, Joe Williams began an association that would last seven years and bring him international recognition; he began singing with Count Basie and his Orchestra. In 1955, Mr. Williams recorded his first album with the Basie Band entitled Every Day, which included such hits as "Alright, O.K. You Win"; "Teach Me Tonight"; "The Comeback"; "Roll 'Em Pete" and "Every Day". All of these songs continue to be associated with Joe Williams today.
In 1961, Joe Williams, nicknamed "Number One Son" by Basie, left the band with Basie's blessings to become a solo performer once again. He went on to record more than 45 albums with such jazz notables as Cannonball Adderley, Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Harry "Sweets" Edison, George Shearing, and the Mel Lewis/Thad Jones big band. In 1983, the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences with the coveted Governor's Award honored Williams. His 1985 album I Just Want to Sing garnered a Best Jazz Vocal Award. He has also been voted Best Jazz Vocal-ist numerous times in Down Beat magazine, and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Joe Williams' television appearances have included perfor-mances with the Boston Pops Orchestra on PBS, the Duke Ellington Memorial Special on HBO and the Grammy Awards shows in 1980, 1986, and 1988 on CBS. He has been one of Johnny Carson's favorite jazz vocalists, appearing on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson more times than any other male jazz vocalist.
Mr. Williams has also appeared as an actor in several motion pictures and television shows: The Moonshine War, a motion picture with Alan Alda; the Lou Grant show on CBS Television; and as Grandpa Al on the popular NBC Television series The Bill Cosby Show. He has also contributed to many movie soundtracks including Sharky's Machine, City Heat and All of Me.
In 1988, Joe Williams became Dr. Joe Williams when he received two Honorary Doctorate of Music Degrees: one from the famed Berklee School of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, and the other from Hamilton College in New York. Mr. Williams joins the ranks of previous Hamilton honorees such as Richard Rodgers, Paul Robeson, Danny Kaye and conductor Michael Tilson-Thomas.
Joe Williams began recording with Telarc Jazz in 1993 in Joe Williams with the Count Basie Orchestra.
When asked to describe his most memorable performances, Joe Williams replied "The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, The Boston Pops, and the Detroit Symphony. I love the lush sound of all the horns, strings and timpani. It really sends a soaring in my soul and makes all the round tones just roll out with joy."
One of the few artists who maintain popular and critical success over several decades, Joe Williams has dedicated his life to the attainment of excellence in vocal artistry. It was with great pride that, in 1993, Telarc Jazz began its relationship with this remarkable talent with the release of Joe Williams with the Count Basie Orchestra. This renown release was quickly followed up with Here's To Life (CD-83357) and Feel the Spirit (CD-83362) in 1995. Joe Williams passed away in 1999.