Billy Daniels

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Billy Daniels and Martha Braun Daniels at the Los Angeles airport in 1950.

William Boone Daniels (September 12, 1915 – October 7, 1988), better known as Billy Daniels, was an 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. 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.


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"[edit]

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.

Billy Daniels and Benny Payne during their first London Palladium show in 1952.

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[edit]

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 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, 1950) "On the Sunny Side of the Street (Columbia 1951) and Columbia's Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder (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.

Personal life[edit]

Daniels was married four times: Gladys Gordan (divorced 1940); Florence Clotworthy (died 1947); Martha Braun (divorced 1953); and Pierrette (from 1955 to his death in 1988).

Daniels and Gladys Gordan had one child; Yvonne Daniels. He had three children with his second wife Florence Clotworthy; Diane, Billy Jr, Bruce. Clotworthy died in 1947.[1] In 1950, Daniels married socialite Martha Braun. Braun filed for divorce in Juarez, Mexico, citing mental cruelty. He did not contest the action.[2] After the divorce Daniels married Pierette Cameron, whom he hired as governess for his children. Pierrette had two daughters with Daniels; Andrea and Dominique.

Daniels had heart-bypass surgery, in 1982 and 1987.[1] He died on October 7, 1988 from stomach cancer at the age of 73 in Los Angeles, California. He is buried at the El Camino Memorial Park in Sorrento Valley, San Diego, California.[3]


  • 1952 You Go to My Head (Mercury)
  • 1954 Love Me or Leave Me (Mercury MG-20047)
  • 1957 You Go to My Head (Verve)
  • 1958 The Masculine Touch (Verve)
  • 1960 Touch of Your Lips (Pickwick)
  • 1963 Love Songs For A Fool" (Wing)
  • 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)



  • Daniels recorded a disco version of "That Old Black Magic" in 1975.[5]
  • Pierrette H. Daniels, Billy's wife (deceased 2011), and their daughter Dominique Daniels founded a 501 (C) 3, a non-profit organization, the Billy Daniels Foundation, raising money for under served youths seeking Arts Education support in her late husband's name.[6] Daughter Dominique Daniels, is Chief Executive Officer of the Billy Daniels Foundation.
  • 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.[7]


  1. ^ a b Uhlig, Mark A, (October 9, 1988). "Billy Daniels, Who Sang in Nightclubs, Dies at 73". New York Times.
  2. ^ "White Socialite Divorces Billy Daniels In Mexico". Jet. Vol. 5, No. 16: 17. Feb 25, 1954.
  3. ^ Billy Daniels at Find a Grave
  4. ^ Arkadia DVD Listing
  5. ^ "Billy Daniels". All Media Guide. Retrieved 2006-12-10.
  6. ^ Billy Daniels Foundation
  7. ^ Goodfellas Screenplay (PDF), posted November 2, 2010

Further reading[edit]

  • The Street That Never Slept by Arnold Shaw. Coward, McCann & Geoghan, 1971. Chapter 14 is about Daniels, plus other references appear throughout.

External links[edit]