Joe Williams (jazz singer)

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Joe Williams
Williams in 1997
Williams in 1997
Background information
Birth nameJoseph Goreed
Born(1918-12-12)December 12, 1918
Cordele, Georgia, U.S.
DiedMarch 29, 1999(1999-03-29) (aged 80)
Las Vegas, Nevada
GenresJazz, blues, swing, traditional pop
Years active1937–1998
LabelsRoulette, RCA Victor, Verve, Telarc

Joe Williams (born Joseph Goreed; December 12, 1918 – March 29, 1999) was an American jazz singer. He sang with big bands such as the Count Basie Orchestra and the Lionel Hampton Orchestra and with his combos. He sang in two films with the Basie orchestra and sometimes worked as an actor.

Early life[edit]

Williams was born in Cordele, Georgia, the son of Willie Goreed and Anne Beatrice née Gilbert. When he was about three, his mother and grandmother took him to Chicago.[1] He grew up on the South Side of Chicago, where he attended Austin Otis Sexton Elementary School and Englewood High School.[1] In the 1930s, as a teenager, he was a member of a gospel group, the Jubilee Boys, and performed in Chicago churches.


Williams began singing professionally as a soloist in 1937. He sometimes sang with big bands: from 1937 he performed with Jimmie Noone's Apex Club Orchestra, and also toured with Les Hite in the Midwest.[2] In 1941 he toured with Coleman Hawkins to Memphis, Tennessee. In 1943 he performed in Boston with the Lionel Hampton Orchestra.[3] He sang with Red Saunders at the Club DeLisa in Chicago in 1945, and in 1946 was in New York with Andy Kirk.[3]

In the late 1940s, Williams was ill and performed on a sporadic basis. By October 1950, he was again at the Club DeLisa with Red Saunders, where Count Basie heard him.[3]

Joe Williams at the Palo Alto Jazz Festival in September 1986

From 1954 to 1961 he was the singer for the Count Basie Orchestra.[3] "Every Day I Have the Blues", recorded in 1955, and "Alright, Okay, You Win" were among many successful recordings from this period.[3][4]

After leaving the Basie band, Williams had a successful career as a soloist at festivals, in clubs and on television.[3] 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.[3]

Williams sang with the Basie orchestra in two films, Jamboree in 1957 and Cinderfella in 1960.[1] He sometimes worked as an actor, and he had a supporting role in the movie The Moonshine War released in 1970 from a story by Elmore Leonard starring Patrick McGoohan, Richard Widmark, Alan Alda and Will Geer. In 1985 he played the role of "Grandpa Al" Hanks on The Cosby Show over 4 episodes as Cosby's father-in-law. Williams appeared several times on Sesame Street in the 1980s and early 1990s.

In 1982, Joe played the part of jazz musician Sonny Goodman in an episode ("Jazz") of the newspaper series Lou Grant.

In later life, Williams often worked in hotels and clubs in Las Vegas, Nevada, 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.[3]


Williams died on March 29, 1999, in Las Vegas, at the age of 80. He had been hospitalized the week before for a respiratory ailment.[2][5]

Awards and honors[edit]

Williams won the Best Jazz Vocal Performance Grammy Award for his LP Nothin' but the Blues in 1984;[6] it was also the winning Traditional Blues Album in the Blues Music Awards of the Blues Foundation in the following year.[7] Williams was nominated for seven other Grammy awards: for Prez & Joe (1979); "8 to 5 I Lose" (1982); I Just Want To Sing (1986); Every Night: Live At Vine St. (1987); "I Won't Leave You Again" (with Lena Horne, 1988); "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby" (with Marlena Shaw, 1989); and In Good Company (1989).[6]

In 1988, Williams received an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berklee College of Music.[8] He also was a co-founder of the Fillius Jazz Archive from Hamilton College, where he also received an honorary degree.[9]

In 1992, his 1955 recording of "Every Day I Have the Blues" with Basie was added to the Grammy Hall of Fame for recordings of particular historical or qualitative importance.[2][10] Williams was added to the Jazz Wall of Fame of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in 2001.[11]

In 1988, with his wife Jillean and friends, Williams set up the not-for-profit Joe Williams Every Day Foundation to offer scholarships to talented young musicians.[12][13][14][15]


As leader[edit]

As guest[edit]


  1. ^ a b c James Ross Moore (2002). Williams, Joe. American National Biography online edition. Accessed April 2015. (subscription required).
  2. ^ a b c Pareles, Jon (March 31, 1999). "Joe Williams, Jazz Singer of Soulful Tone and Timing, Is Dead at 80". The New York Times.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h 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 April 2015. (subscription required).
  4. ^ Joe Williams Collection. University of Idaho Library. Archived February 18, 2015.
  6. ^ a b GRAMMY Award Results for Joe Williams. The Recording Academy. Archived September 26, 2017.
  7. ^ "You searched for handys.PHP - Blues Foundation". Archived from the original on January 23, 2019. Retrieved January 22, 2019.
  8. ^ "Joe Williams". Retrieved January 22, 2019.
  9. ^ Barrie, Vige. "azz Archive Remembers Singer Williams H'88 on 100th Birthday". Hamilton College. Retrieved February 23, 2022.
  10. ^ Grammy Hall Of Fame Archived January 22, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Santa Monica, CA: The Recording Academy. Accessed April 2015.
  11. ^ "2001 Inductees". ASCAP Jazz Wall of Fame. Retrieved January 3, 2017.
  12. ^ "Joe Williams Every Day Foundation". Retrieved January 3, 2017.
  13. ^ Larkin, Colin (1995). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Guinness. p. 4494. ISBN 1-56159-176-9.
  14. ^ Gelb, Hank (October 5, 1997). "Joyful Noise". San Francisco Chronicle.
  15. ^ Elwood, Philip (March 30, 1999). "Beautiful voice, elegant man". The San Francisco Examiner.

Further reading[edit]

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

External links[edit]