William Boone Daniels (September 12, 1915 - October 7, 1988), better known as Billy Daniels, was an African American singer active in the United States and Europe from the mid-1930s to 1988, notable for his hit recording of "That Old Black Magic" and his pioneering performances on early 1950s television.
Daniels was born in Jacksonville, Florida, where his father was a postmaster and notary. His mother was a schoolteacher and organist. Daniels had a heritage of Portuguese sailor, Native American (Choctaw), African American, and frontiersman Daniel Boone.
In 1935, Daniels moved from Jacksonville to New York to attend Columbia University. He planned to become a lawyer, but he was sidetracked during the Depression. His grandmother was a seamstress in Harlem for the Ziegfeld Follies, and she encouraged her grandson to sing at Dickie Wells, the club where he first worked as a dishwasher, then a singing waiter. There he was discovered by bandleader Erskine Hawkins, who hired him as a featured vocalist. He toured with the Erskine Hawkins Band in 1935-36 and then returned to Harlem. Throughout 1938, he sang daily on New York radio for 12 different sponsors. "It was me or the horse racing," Daniels remarked.
Daniels performed frequently at nightclubs on New York's famed 52nd Street, where he was one of the first singers to leave the big-band scene and pursue a solo career. He sometimes made three 52nd Street club performances per night. In 1945, he played intermission with Charlie Parker at the Spotlite Club on 52nd Street.
Daniels had several accompanists, including Nat Cole, while in New York. In 1948, he teamed with ex-big-band pianist Benny Payne, who had been Cab Calloway's pianist in the Cotton Club. Payne remained as accompanist for the rest of Daniel's career.
"That Old Black Magic"
Daniels' first trademark song from his time on New York radio was the song "Diane," which he recorded on Bluebird in 1941. His later signature song was "That Old Black Magic", by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer, which Daniels first recorded for Apollo Records in 1948. His 1950 recording on Mercury became a hit, selling in the millions. His sensational performance in 1950 in Bill Miller's Riveria Club led to holdover appearances. Following Park Avenue residences, Daniels record holdover at 1952 New York Copacabana Club still stands.
He was popular in Europe after he headlined at the London Palladium in 1952, having broken the house records. He toured the UK's Moss Theatre circuit in the 1950s as "America's most exciting singer". His forte was as a nightclub entertainer, and he was the biggest cabaret draw in New York throughout the 1950s, appearing alongside the comedian Jimmy Durante. His vocal stylings and trademark dance movements were widely imitated by the impressionists of the era. In 1958, Daniels was the first entertainer to sign a longterm contract to appear in Las Vegas for three years at the Stardust.
He had performed in musicals on Broadway early in his career with a minor role in a short-lived musical, Memphis Bound (1945). More notable was the long run (700+ performances) of Golden Boy with Sammy Davis Jr. in 1964, directed by Arthur Penn. Daniels toured the US in 1975 with Pearl Bailey in the all-black Hello, Dolly!, and in London's West End, he headlined a 1978 presentation of Bubbling Brown Sugar. He was popular in Australia where he first toured with the Andrews Sisters in 1954.
Films and television
He was a pioneer in the new medium of television with his own television series on ABC in 1952. The Billy Daniels Show was sponsored by Rybutol, a popular vitamin tablet at the time. This 15-minute show, telecast from New York on Sunday evenings from the what was later to become The Ed Sullivan Theater (and now The Late Show) was a milestone: the first sponsored network television series starring a black performer. He appeared on television in the US and UK and Australia and Canada throughout the 1950s and 1960s with performances on The Milton Berle Show and 'The Ed Sullivan Show.
His films include When You're Smiling (Columbia, 1951) and Columbia's Sunny Side of the Street (Columbia, 1952).
Daniels' recordings cover the period of transition from 78-rpm to the dawn of microgroove recording. Remembered mostly for his charismatic live performances, he made an album at Abbey Road, The Magic of Billy Daniels (1978), which contained a disco version of "That Old Black Magic". He recorded one of the first soul records, "Woe Woe Woe", a now rare recording.
He had four daughters and three sons: Yvonne Daniels (Chicago's Radio Hall of Fame - deceased), Baroness Von Czenkow, William B. Daniels II, Bruce Daniels (deceased), Jack (Pearce) in England b.1954 and from his 1955 marriage to Pierrette (Cameron) Andrea (Grefelt), and Dominique Daniels (Billy Daniels Foundation); and 6 grandchildren: Adrien, Gregory, Kristen, Bo, Jonas, and Desiree.
He died at the age of 73 in Los Angeles, California, surrounded by family and friends and his beloved wife of 33 years, Pierrette H. Daniels (aka Perri). He was one of the first African-American entertainers to cross over into the mainstream and his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame lies alongside that of Jerry Lewis.
- 1952 You Go to My Head (Mercury)
- 1954 Love Me or Leave Me (Mercury MG-20047)
- 1960 Touch of Your Lips (Pickwick)
- 1978 The Magic Of Billy Daniels (Music For Pleasure)
- 1993 Billy Daniels at the Crescendo (GNP)
- 2001 Mr. Black Magic (GNP/Crescendo)
- 2003 Around Midnight (Sepia Records)
- 2004 The Legendary Billy Daniels (Sepia Records)
- 1948 Sepia Cinderella
- 1951 When You're Smiling
- 1952 Sunny Side of the Street
- 2009 That Old Black Magic (Arkadia Jazz DVD)
- Daniels recorded a disco version of "That Old Black Magic" in 1975.
- Daniels' daughter, Yvonne, followed in her father's footsteps by entering the music field as a disc jockey, known as Chicago's "First Lady of Radio." She pioneered the radio business in the 1960s by being the voice of evening drive (7 p.m. to 10 p.m.) on Chicago's WSDM-FM, the All Girl Jazz Station (Smack Dab in the Middle of the FM Dial) owned by Lenny Chess. She was notable for her 1973-82 stint at WLS. Her urban midday radio show on Gannett-owned WGCI-FM Radio from 1982 to 1989 was ranked number 1 in the Chicago market's Arbitron ratings. She finished her broadcast career co-hosting morning drive with Ramsey Lewis on Chicago's WNUA-FM Radio, a smooth jazz station. After she died of breast cancer in 1991, a street in downtown Chicago was named for her. Like her father, Yvonne was a barrier-breaker, but even more so because she broke the gender as well as the racial barrier, being the first woman to host a music show on a major Chicago radio station in the 1970s.
- Daniels was married three times: Florence Clotworthy (died 1947); Martha Braun (divorced 1953); and Pierrette (from 1955 to his death in 1988).
- Pierrette H. Daniels, Billy's wife (deceased 2011), founded a non-profit organization, the Billy Daniels Foundation, raising money for Performing Arts in her late husbands name.
- In the original script for the movie Goodfellas (working title: "Wiseguys") the narration of the character Karen Hill was to include, "One night, Billy Daniels sent us champagne. There was nothing like it." However in the final version of the movie, the name was changed to Bobby Vinton.
- Daniels English son Jack, from a between marriage relationship with English cabaret singer Rae Croft, only discovered his true father's identity aged 40;"I'm a Jack Daniels" ran the headline in The Sun newspaper.
- The Street That Never Slept by Arnold Shaw. Coward, McCann & Geoghan, 1971. Chapter 14 is about Daniels, plus other references appear throughout.