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 Fuller Up The Dead Musician Directory 
Joe Williams 
Joe Williams 
 Respiratory Illness....March 29th, 1999
Age 80
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OBITUARY 
        
       
 
    
Jazz legend Joe Williams dead at 80 Smooth baritone,
TV actor was ‘national treasure’
 
~MSNBC NEWS SERVICES
 
               LAS VEGAS, March 30 —  Legendary jazz and blues 
               singer Joe Williams, whose deep baritone often 
               turned the Basie band into a swinging revival 
               meeting, has died in Las Vegas of acute lung 
               disease, a hospital spokeswoman said Tuesday. 
 
 
                                WILLIAMS, 80, COLLAPSED and died in the street 
                         after leaving his hospital bed and walking more than two 
                         miles in the direction of his home Monday, hospital 
                         spokeswoman Ann Lynch said. 

                                He was admitted to the Sunrise Hospital a week ago 
                         and was being treated for acute obstructive pulmonary 
                         disease. 

                                “He indicated to the staff he was leaving and that he 
                         would be back in a moment, that he’d be right back,” 
                         Lynch said. ”When he did not return we began a search and 
                         we called the police.” 

                                Williams, whose powerful baritone voice could deliver 
                         blues, standards and ballads with equal force or tenderness, 
                         was among the last of the big-band singers. 

                                He sang as a regular with the Count Basie Band from 
                         1954 to 1961 and became an international star. After the 
                         big-band era, Williams continued to perform with small 
                         groups and in 1985 he won a Grammy Award for best jazz 
                         vocal performance for his album “Nothin’ But The Blues.” 

                                President Clinton said he and his wife, Hillary Rodham 
                         Clinton, were deeply saddened to learn of Williams’ death. 
                                “He was a national treasure. For the better part of this 
                         century, America was blessed with Joe Williams’ smooth 
                         baritone voice and peerless interpretations of our favorite 
                         ballads,” the president said in a statement. 

                                “Hearing Joe Williams sing at the White House in 1993 
                         remained one of my favorite memories,” he added. 

                                “At the age of 80,” said singer Robert Goulet, “Joe 
                         could sing better than most people at the age of 20. He was 
                         one of the greatest jazz and blues singers of all time, and he 
                         was such a good man, too.” 
  
                         ‘COSBY’ ROLE 
                                Williams’ appeal stretched to other mediums: He 
                         played Bill Cosby’s father-in-law, Grandpa Al, on “The 
                         Cosby Show” in the 1980s. He and Cosby were friends, 
                         and the childhood memories Grandpa Al spun on the show 
                         were his own from Chicago. 

                                But his fame was in jazz. Williams became a sensation 
                         in 1955 when he recorded “Everyday I Have the Blues” 
                         with Basie, and the two were together for seven years. 
                         Williams repeatedly was chosen the top male jazz singer in 
                         readers’ polls for Downbeat and other magazines. 

                                “I’m most pleasantly surprised at what still comes out 
                         of my throat,” Williams said in an 1986 interview. “I’m 
                         thrilled and thankful. I remember Edward (Duke Ellington) 
                         saying, ‘I’m just a messenger boy for God.’ Much of what 
                         we do comes through us. I thank God for what comes 
                         through me.” 
  
                         GEORGIA NATIVE 
                                Born Joseph Goreed on Dec. 12, 1918, in Cordele, 
                         Ga., the entertainer was raised by his mother and 
                         grandmother. He found fun in playing the piano and singing 
                         the spirituals he heard at the Methodist church where his 
                         mother was the organist. 

                                In his teens in the 1930s, he led the singing group The 
                         Jubilee Boys in performances in Chicago churches. He later 
                         sang solo in a Chicago club, and made his professional 
                         debut in 1937 with the late Jimmy Noone. 

                                His big break came in 1943, when Williams was 
                         working as a security guard to support himself. He wound 
                         up guarding the front door of the Regal Theater and met 
                         jazz luminaries such as Duke Ellington. The Regal’s manager 
                         sent Williams to the Tick Tock in Boston to join Lionel 
                         Hampton’s band, which had its own powerhouse blues 
                         singer, Dinah Washington. 
  
                         MAKING MAGIC 
                                The magic came with Basie. Williams said Basie hired 
                         him on the advice of his band. 

                                “Basie said, ‘I can’t give you what you’re worth. But, 
                         things get better for me, they get better for you.’ I had the 
                         good sense to go with him,” Williams recalled. 

                                The two played together from 1954 to 1961, and 
                         Williams often performed with Basie until his death in 1984; 
                         Williams dedicated his renditions of “You Are So Beautiful” 
                         to Basie. 

                                “As a talent, he was one of the best blues singers in the 
                         world and also one of the best ballad singers,” added friend 
                         and singer Buddy Greco. “There will never be anyone like 
                         him, again.” 

                                Tony Bennett recalled Williams once telling him: “It’s 
                         not that you want to sing, it’s that you have to sing.” 

                                “He defined who I really am,” Bennett said in 1992. 
 
                                Even in his later years, Williams sang on cruise ships, at 
                         festivals, in hotels and clubs, working about 40 weeks a 
                         year. He was an avid golfer. 

                                Williams is survived by his wife, Jillean; his son, Joe; 
                         and his daughter, Anne. Funeral information was not 
                         immediately available. 

  
                                © 1999 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This 
                         material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or 
                         redistributed. 

    
 

 NY TIMES
Joe Williams 

          LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Deep-voiced jazz singer Joe Williams, who 
          performed with orchestras headed by Count Basie and Lionel Hampton, 
          was found dead on a Las Vegas street Monday after leaving his hospital 
          bed and walking several miles. He collapsed just blocks from his home. 
          He was 80.  

          Clark County Coroner Ron Flud said it appeared Williams died of 
          natural causes.  

          Williams' wife, Jillean, said that her husband had been admitted to 
          Sunrise Hospital a week earlier for a respiratory ailment after becoming ill 
          in Seattle.  

          Why Williams left the hospital wasn't immediately known. Longtime 
          friend and fellow singer Buddy Greco told the Review-Journal he spoke 
          with Williams on Sunday night and that the ill singer told him that he was 
          seeing spirits in his hospital room.  

          In his teens in the 1930s, his big baritone voice led the singing group, The 
          Jubilee Boys in performances in Chicago churches. He began singing solo 
          at a Chicago club called Kitty Davis's and was earning up to $30 a night, 
          mostly in tips, for singing and for cleaning up after customers.  

          Williams made his professional debut in 1937 with the late Jimmy Noone. 

          His big break came in 1943, when Williams was working as a security 
          guard to support himself. He wound up guarding the front door of the 
          Regal Theater and met jazz luminaries such as Duke Ellington. The 
          Regal's manager sent Williams to join jazz percussionist Lionel 
          Hampton's band at the Tick Tock in Boston.  

          Even in his later years, Williams sang on cruise ships, at festivals, in hotels 
          and clubs, working about 40 weeks a year, especially in Las Vegas. 

 
 
 
       
 

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BIOGRAPHY
 
 
Born: Joseph Goreed, December 12, 1918, in Cordele, Georgia. Changed surname to Williams, c. 1934.  

Joe Williams was possibly the last great big band singer, following in the tradition of Jimmy Rushing but carving out his own unique identity. Equally skilled on blues (including double entendre ad-libs), ballads and standards, Williams has always been a charming and consistently swinging performer. In the late '30s Williams performed regularly with Jimmie Noone; he gigged with Coleman Hawkins and Lionel Hampton in the early '40s and toured with Andy Kirk during 1946-47. After stints with Red Saunders and Hot Lips Page and recordings with King Kolax (including a 1951 version of "Every Day I Have the Blues"), Williams joined Count Basie's Orchestra in 1954. During the next seven years he and Basie had a mutually satisfying relationship, both making each other more famous! His version of "Every Day" with Count became his theme song while many other pieces (such as "Goin' to Chicago" and "Smack Dab in the Middle") became permanent parts of Williams' repertoire. After leaving Basie in 1961, the singer worked with the Harry Edison quintet for a couple of years and has freelanced as a leader ever since, having occasional reunions with the Basie band. His collaborations with Cannonball Adderley and George Shearing were successful as was an album with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. Joe Williams has remained one of the most popular and talented singers in jazz. -- Scott Yanow, All-Music Guide

 
 
  
 
 

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