Joe Williams (jazz singer)

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Joe Williams
Joe Williams.jpg
Williams performing
Background information
Birth name Joseph Goreed
Born (1918-12-12)December 12, 1918
Origin Cordele, Georgia, U.S.
Died March 29, 1999(1999-03-29) (aged 80)
Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
Genres Jazz
Traditional pop
Occupation(s) Singer
Labels RCA Victor, Verve
Associated acts Lionel Hampton, Count Basie
Notable instruments

Joe Williams (December 12, 1918 – March 29, 1999) was an American jazz singer.

He was born Joseph Goreed in Cordele, Georgia, and moved to Chicago as a child. He was raised by his mother and grandmother. He grew up on the South Side of Chicago, surrounded by jazz, blues, and gospel music. In the 1930s, as a teenager, he was a member of the Jubilee Boys and performed in Chicago churches.

Joe Williams, Palo Alto CA Jazz Festival 7/27/86. (Photo by Brian McMillen)


He worked as a singer and bouncer in Chicago in the late 1930s and early 1940s.[citation needed] He began singing professionally as a soloist in 1937. He sometimes sang with big bands: in 1937 he performed with Jimmie Noone's Apex Club Orchestra, and in 1941 toured with Coleman Hawkins to Memphis, Tennessee. In 1943 he performed in Boston with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra.[1] He toured with Hampton for several years but never achieved breakthrough success.[citation needed] He sang with Red Saunders at the Club DeLisa in Chicago in 1945, and in 1946 was in New York with Andy Kirk.[1]

In the late 1940s Williams was ill and performed little. By October 1950 he was again at the Club DeLisa with Red Saunders, where Count Basie heard him.[1]

From 1954 to 1961 he was the singer for the Count Basie Orchestra.[1] He rose to national prominence with Basie, who nicknamed him "The Number One Son".[citation needed] "Every Day I Have the Blues", recorded in 1955, was one of his many hit recordings.[1]

After leaving the Basie band, Williams had a successful career as a soloist at festivals, in clubs and on television.[1] He and Basie remained on good terms and he regularly appeared with the Basie orchestra. He toured and made recordings with many other musicians, including Harry "Sweets" Edison in 1961–62, Junior Mance between 1962 and 1964, George Shearing in 1971, and Cannonball Adderley between 1973 and 1975. He went on a long tour from Egypt to India with Clark Terry in 1977, and toured Europe and the United States with Thad Jones and the Basie Orchestra in 1985. He also worked with his own combos, which between 1970 and 1990 usually included the pianist Norman Simmons, and often had Henry Johnson on guitar.[1]

Williams sometimes worked as an actor, and in 1985 took the rôle of "Grandpa Al" Hanks in Bill Cosby's popular Cosby Show.[1] Williams appeared several times on Sesame Street in the 1980s and early 1990s, including the celebrity version of "Put Down the Duckie".[2] He also performed the song "The Birdland Jump."[3]

In later life Williams often worked in hotels and clubs in Las Vegas, but also sang at festivals and worked on cruise ships. He toured again with the Basie Orchestra, this time under the direction of Frank Foster, who had succeeded Thad Jones as leader of the band. Williams sang with the former Ellington Orchestra drummer Louie Bellson in Duke Ellington's jazz suite Black, Brown and Beige; in about 1993 or 1994 he again toured with George Shearing.[1]

Williams worked regularly until his death at the age of 80, in Las Vegas.

With his wife Jillean and friends, he set up the not-for-profit Joe Williams Every Day Foundation to offer scholarships to talented young musicians.[4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14]

Awards, recognitions and legacy[edit]

Grammy Award[edit]

Joe Williams Grammy Award History[15]
Year Category Title Genre Result Notes
1989 Best Jazz Vocal Performance In Good Company Jazz Nominee
1989 Best Jazz Vocal Performance Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby Jazz Nominee with Marlena Shaw
1988 Best Jazz Vocal Performance I Won't Leave You Again Jazz Nominee with Lena Horne
1987 Best Jazz Vocal Performance Every Night Jazz Nominee
1986 Best Jazz Vocal Performance I Just Want to Sing Jazz Nominee
1984 Best Jazz Vocal Performance Nothin' But the Blues Jazz Winner
1982 Best Jazz Vocal Performance 8 to 5 I Lose Jazz Nominee
1979 Best Jazz Vocal Performance Prez and Joe Jazz Nominee

Grammy Hall of Fame[edit]

The Grammy Hall of Fame was established by The Recording Academy's National Trustees in 1973 to honor recordings of "lasting qualitative or historical significance" that are at least 25 years old.[16]

Year recorded Title Genre Label Year inducted Notes
1955 Every Day I Have the Blues Jazz (single) Clef 1992 with Count Basie Orchestra

The Blues Foundation Awards[edit]

Joe Williams: Blues Music Awards[17]
Year Category Title Result
1985 Traditional Blues Album Nothin' But The Blues Winner


Year Category Result Notes
2001 ASCAP Jazz Wall of Fame[18] Inducted
1995 Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame Inducted
1993 NEA Jazz Masters Winner
1993 Ebony Lifetime Achievement Award Winner
1983 Hollywood Walk of Fame Honored at 6508 Hollywood Blvd.
next to Count Basie

Selected discography[edit]

Year Title Label Billboard Chart
Top Jazz Albums[19]
2002 The Definitive Joe Williams Verve
2001 The Heart and Soul of Joe Williams and George Shearing Verve
1993 Every Day: The Best of the Verve Years Verve #2
1992 Ballad and Blues Master Verve #7
1997 The Best of Joe Williams: The Roulette, Solid State & Blue Note Years Verve #20
1990 That Holiday Feelin' Verve
1989 In Good Company Verve #5
1985 I Just Wanna Sing Delos
1984 Nothin' but the Blues Delos
1979 Dave Pell's Prez Conference GNP Crescendo
1973 Joe Williams Live - with The Cannonball Adderley & Nat Adderley Sextet Fantasy
1964 Me and the Blues RCA
1963 At Newport '63 RCA
1961 Together - with Harry "Sweets" Edison Roulette
1959 Every Day I Have the Blues - with Count Basie Roulette
1958 A Man Ain't Supposed to Cry Roulette
1957 One O'Clock Jump Verve
1956 Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings - with Count Basie Verve
1955 A Night at Count Basie's - with Count Basie Vanguard


  • 1991 Jazz at the Smithsonian (Kultur Video) - Rereleased in the Jazz Masters Series on DVD by Shanachie (2005)
  • 1992 Joe Williams with George Shearing: A Song is Born (VIEW) - Rereleased on DVD by VIEW (2004)[20]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Bob Weir, Barry Kernfeld. Williams, Joe. In: Barry Kernfeld (ed.). The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, second edition. Grove Music Online/ Oxford Music Online. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Accessed December 2014. (subscription required)
  2. ^ "Sesame Street - Put Down the Duckie (with epilogue)". Retrieved 31 January 2015. 
  3. ^ "Classic Sesame Street - "Birdland Jump"". Retrieved 31 January 2015. 
  4. ^ Joe Williams Every Day Foundation
  5. ^ "Joe Williams". all about jazz. Retrieved September 6, 2012. 
  6. ^ All About jazz: Joe Williams
  7. ^ "Blues singer Joe Williams" San Francisco Gate (Sunday, October 5, 1997)
  8. ^ All Music: Joe Williams
  9. ^ Larkin, Colin. The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, Guinness (1995), page 4494 - ISBN 1-56159-176-9
  10. ^ Count, William & Rushing at Newport Jazz Festival on YouTube
  11. ^ Cannonball Adderley: Big Man
  12. ^ Beautiful voice, elegant man: San Francisco Examiner (March 30, 1999): Joe Williams was perfect combination of jazz, blues and balad singer
  13. ^ Photo: William & Wilson 1997
  14. ^ Joe Williams at Find a Grave
  15. ^ Grammy Award History
  16. ^ Grammy Hall of Fame Database
  17. ^ The Blues Foundation Database
  18. ^ The ASCP Jazz Wall of Fame list
  19. ^ Top Jazz Albums
  20. ^ VIEW DVD Listing

Further reading[edit]

  • R. J. Gleason (1956). Every Day is a Good Day for Joe Williams. Down Beat 23 (11): 11
  • R. Horricks (1956). Joe Williams. Jazz Monthly 2 (7): 7
  • L. Tomkins (1963). Frankly Speaking: Joe Williams. Crescendo 1 (6): 10
  • B. Gardner (1964). Is Joe Williams Really Joe Williams? Down Beat 31 (32): 19
  • A. J. Smith (1976). Joe Williams: the Well Tempered Blaze of Vocal Excellence. Down Beat 43 (9): 11
  • Sheldon Harris (1979) Blues Who’s Who: a Biographical Dictionary of Blues Singers. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House. ISBN 9780870004254.
  • Stanley Dance (1980). The World of Count Basie. New York; London: C. Scribner's Sons. ISBN 9780684166049. p. 198.
  • Joe Williams (1980). You and Me. Jazz-Podium 29 (10): 12
  • J. E. Siegel (1980). Talking with Joe Williams. Radio Free Jazz 21 (January): 12
  • Dempsey J. Travis (1983). An Autobiography of Black Jazz. Chicago, IL: Urban Research Institute. ISBN 9780941484039 p. 467.
  • Leslie Gourse (1985). Every Day: the Story of Joe Williams London; New York: Quartet Books. ISBN 9780704324664.
  • Chris Sheridan (1986). Count Basie: a Bio-discography. New York: Greenwood Press. ISBN 9780313249358.
  • D. Morgenstern (1987). Joe Williams: the Boy Singer. Jazz Times (October): 36
  • Whitney Balliett (1988). American Singers: Twenty-seven Portraits in Song. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195065732. p. 72.
  • [s.n.] (1988). Joe Williams. Jazz-Podium. 37 (7): 3
  • E. Calloway (April 28, 1990). Defender Newsboy Joe Williams Grew up to be a Great Vocalist. Chicago Defender p. 33.
  • R. Mitchell (February 16, 1994). Joe Williams Saves a Few of his High Notes. Houston Chronicle.
  • D. Zych (1994). Joe Williams: Celebrating Ev-e-ry-Day. Jazz Times 24' (2): 43
  • H. Gelb (October 5, 1997). Blues Singer Joe Williams Has Seen Hard Times, but Takes Solace from his Saviour: Joyful Noise. San Francisco Examiner Magazine. p. 10.
  • D. Heckman (March 31, 1999). [obituary]. Los Angeles Times
  • J. Pareles (March 31, 1999). [obituary]. New York Times
  • B. Crowther (1999). [obituary]. Jazz Journal International 52 (5): 18

External links[edit]