William Bell (singer)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

William Bell
Bell in 1971
Bell in 1971
Background information
Birth nameWilliam Yarbrough
Born (1939-07-16) July 16, 1939 (age 84)
Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.
GenresR&B, soul
Occupation(s)Singer, songwriter
Years active1957–present
LabelsStax Records, Wilbe Records

William Bell ( Yarbrough; born July 16, 1939)[1] is an American soul singer and songwriter. As a performer, he is probably best known for his debut single, 1961's "You Don't Miss Your Water"; 1968's top 10 hit in the UK "Private Number", a duet with Judy Clay; and his only US top 40 hit, 1976's "Tryin' to Love Two", which also hit No. 1 on the R&B chart. Upon the death of Otis Redding, Bell released the well-received memorial song "A Tribute to a King".

As a songwriter, Bell co-authored the Chuck Jackson hit "Any Other Way" (which was a cover since Bell issued it first) as a follow-up to "You Don't Miss Your Water"; Billy Idol's 1986 hit "To Be a Lover", which was first a hit for Bell under its original title "I Forgot to Be Your Lover"; and the blues classic "Born Under A Bad Sign", popularized by both Albert King and Cream.

Although he was a longtime recording artist for Stax Records, he is unrelated to the label's onetime president, Al Bell.

In 2017, Bell was awarded a Grammy for Best Americana Album for his record This Is Where I Live. He performed his hit "Born Under a Bad Sign" alongside Gary Clark Jr. at the 2017 Grammy Awards. Bell was also featured on Rolling Stone's "Best of the Grammys" for that year.

His music has been sampled by artists such as Kanye West, Ludacris, and Jaheim.[2]


Bell was born in Memphis, Tennessee.[1] He took the last name "Bell" as a stage name in honor of his grandmother, whose first name was Belle.

Bell sang in church as a child and considered himself a student of The Soul Stirrers, the popular gospel group led by Sam Cooke. At age ten, he began songwriting with the original composition "Alone on a Rainy Night". At the age of 14, Bell won a talent contest and began making a name for himself singing in Memphis-area clubs.[3]

He made his first leap into the music scene backing Rufus Thomas. In 1957, Bell recorded his first sides as a member of the Del Rios,[1] a teenage vocal group that caught the eye of Stax Records.[3]

Bell was an early signing on Stax Records initially as a songwriter.[4] Other notable Stax Records artists include Otis Redding,[5] Sam and Dave,[6] Isaac Hayes,[7] and The Staple Singers.[8]

Bell was the first male solo act to be signed to Stax Records and he was able to release several singles before joining the military. He continued to record singles while on break from deployment, including the song "Marching Off to War".[2]

It was only after Bell finished his stint in the military that he was finally able to release his debut album,[9] 1967's The Soul of a Bell, on Stax Records.[10] Bell's top 20 single "Everybody Loves a Winner" was on this album.

Bell was a close friend of fellow Stax recording artist Otis Redding. Bell was supposed to be on the same tragic 1967 flight that led to Redding's death. "It started snowing so bad in Chicago, the promoter up there canceled my show," recalls Bell. The tragedy led to a collaboration between Bell and Booker T. Jones (of Booker T. & the M.G.'s) who Bell knew from high school and church. Bell and Jones released "A Tribute to a King" in honor of Redding and it quickly became a hit.[11]

In 1967, Bell co-wrote an unintended Christmas hit, "Everyday Will Be Like a Holiday". The song remains one of Bell's most-recorded hits and serves as a classic R&B Christmas song.[12] In 2017, Hot Press magazine named the hit the "Greatest Christmas record of all time".[13]

Bell moved to Atlanta, Georgia, in 1969 and started Peachtree Record Company, his short-lived soul label.[citation needed]

During his time in Atlanta, he took acting lessons and played Stanley Kowalski in a production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Bell later signed a two-year deal with Mercury Records, where he released the 1977 single "Trying to Love Two", which hit No. 1 on the R&B charts and No. 10 on the pop charts, and sold a million copies.[14]

In 1985, he founded another label, Wilbe, and issued Passion, which found its most receptive audiences in the UK.[1]

Two years later, Bell was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and received the Rhythm & Blues Foundation's R&B Pioneer Award that same year. Starting in 1992, Bell took a hiatus from the recording studio, while still performing regularly. In 2000, he released an album of all-new material on Wilbe entitled A Portrait Is Forever. In 2003, he was honored with the W.C. Handy Heritage Award. It wasn't until six years after his previous album that he released the album New Lease on Life.

2010s to present[edit]

In 2016, Bell reactivated the Stax Records label to release a new album. Produced by John Leventhal, This Is Where I Live featured Bell performing a batch of new songs, along with a revived recording of "Born Under a Bad Sign".[1] In 2017, the album was awarded a Grammy for Best Americana Album,[15] which took Bell's career to new heights including a featured performance alongside other legendary Stax acts at BBC's 50 Years of Soul event at Royal Albert Hall in London, UK.[16] Additionally, Bell was one of the final performances at BB King's Blues Club in NYC before it closed in the spring of 2018.[17]

Bell was featured in the 2014 documentary film Take Me to the River that explored the heart of the enduring Memphis music scene. He was featured alongside other artists including Bobby Bland, Mavis Staples, and Snoop Dogg.[18] Bell is currently involved in the sequel to the popular documentary, and he calls it "a powerful little film".[11]

In 2016, Bell recorded This Is Where I Live, his first major label album in over 30 years.[19] Bell was awarded a Grammy for Best Americana Album in 2017, which, in turn, had such a strong effect on his streaming data that Rolling Stone called him "the biggest winner of the night".[20]

His song "You Don't Miss Your Water" is featured in the trailer and the first episode of the Cinemax TV series Quarry, which debuted in 2016.[21]

On 1 September 2017, age 78, Bell performed live at the Royal Albert Hall BBC Proms with Jools Holland and his Rhythm & Blues Orchestra in a tribute concert to 50 years of Stax Records synonymous with Southern Soul music.

Bell spent time in 2017 and 2018 touring with a group of featured artists from Take Me to the River. The touring group was named one of the "10 Bands to See This Year" by Parade magazine.[22]

In 2017, Bell performed twice on NPR Music's Tiny Desk Concerts. He performed with his own band and again with the touring Take Me to the River group.[2]

Bell released the single "In a Moment of Weakness" in 2018 as part of the Amazon Original Produced By series. His song was produced by the Grammy Award-winning Matt Ross-Spang.[2]

Bell performed at the Mempho Music Festival in Memphis, Tennessee on October 6, 2018 as part of a tribute set dedicated to Royal Studios.[23] In 2019, Bell collaborated with Southern Avenue on their single "We've Got the Music".[24]

Bell performed at the 2019 Blues Music Awards, where he was nominated for Best Soul Blues Male Artist.[25]

Guitar legend Eric Clapton released a video for his 2018 cover of Bell's holiday song "Everyday Will Be Like a Holiday".[26] Bell joined several other soul legends for BB King's tribute concert at the Capitol Theatre on February 16, 2020.[27] A few months later, the National Endowment for the Arts named Bell one of their 2020 fellows, the "nation's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. These lifetime honor awards of $25,000 are given in recognition of both artistic excellence and efforts to sustain cultural traditions for future generations."[28]

Covered by[edit]

Awards and honors[edit]

Notable performances[edit]


Studio albums[edit]

Year Album Peak chart positions Label
1967 The Soul of a Bell Stax 719
1969 Bound to Happen 49 Stax 2014
1971 Wow ...William Bell Stax 2037
1972 Phases of Reality Stax 3005
1973 Waiting for William Bell Stax 3012
1974 Relating Stax 5502
1977 Coming Back for More 63 15 Mercury
It's Time You Took Another Listen
1983 Survivor Kat Family
1985 Passion 39 Wilbe
1989 On a Roll
1992 Bedtime Stories 96
1999 A Portrait Is Forever
2006 New Lease on Life
2016 This Is Where I Live Stax
2023 One Day Closer to Home Wilbe Records
"—" denotes releases that did not chart.

Compilation albums[edit]

  • The Best of William Bell (1988)
  • The Very Best of William Bell (2007)


Year Label & Cat No Title Peak chart positions
US Hot 100
1961 Stax 116 "You Don't Miss Your Water" 95
1962 Stax 128 "Any Other Way" 131
1963 Stax 132 "I Told You So"
Stax 135 "Just as I Thought"
Stax 138 "Somebody Mentioned Your Name"
Stax 141 "I'll Show You"[52]
1964 Stax 146 "Who Will It Be Tomorrow"
1965 Stax 174 "Crying All by Myself"
1966 Stax 191 "Share What You Got (But Keep What You Need)" 27
Stax 199 "Never Like This Before" 29
1967 Stax 212 "Everybody Loves a Winner" 95 18
Stax 227 "Eloise (Hang on in There)"
Stax 237 "Everyday Will Be Like a Holiday" 33
1968 Stax 248 "Every Man Ought to Have a Woman" (A-Side) 115
Stax 248 "A Tribute to a King" (B-Side) 86 16 31
Stax 0005 "Private Number" (with Judy Clay) 75 17 8
Stax 0015 "I Forgot to Be Your Lover" 45 10
Stax 0017 "My Baby Specializes" (with Judy Clay) 104 45
1969 Stax 0032 "My Whole World Is Falling Down" 39
Stax 0038 "Happy" 129
Stax 0040 "Soul-A-Lujah"
(with Johnnie Taylor, Eddie Floyd, Pervis Staples,
Carla Thomas, Mavis Staples and Cleotha Staples)
Stax 0043 "Love's Sweet Sensation" (with Mavis Staples)
Stax 0044 "I Can't Stop" (with Carla Thomas) 106
Stax 0054 "Born Under a Bad Sign"
1970 Stax 0067 "All I Have to Do Is Dream" (with Carla Thomas)
Stax 0070 "Lonely Soldier"
1971 Stax 0092 "A Penny for Your Thoughts"
Stax 0106 "All for the Love of a Woman"
1972 Stax 0128 "Save Us"
1973 Stax 0157 "Lovin' on Borrowed Time" 101 22
Stax 0175 "I've Got to Go on Without You" 54
1974 Stax 0198 "Gettin' What You Want (Losin' What You Got)" 39
Stax 0221 "Get It While It's Hot"
1976 Mercury 73829 "Tryin' to Love Two" 10 1
1977 Mercury 73922 "Coming Back for More" 66
Mercury 73961 "Easy Comin' Out (Hard Goin' In)" 30
1983 Kat Family 03502 "Bad Time to Break Up" 65
Kat Family 03995 "Playing Hard to Get"
1985 Wilbe 201 "Lovin' on Borrowed Time" (new version)
1986 Wilbe 202 "I Don't Want to Wake Up (Feelin' Guilty)" (with Janice Bulluck) 59
Wilbe 204 "Headline News" 65 70
"Passion" 96
Wilbe 205 "Please Come Home for Christmas"
1989 Wilbe 508 "Getting Out of Your Bed"
1990 Wilbe 515 "Need Your Love So Bad"
1992 Wilbe 619 "Bedtime Story"
1995 Wilbe 624 "Shake Hands (Come Out Lovin')"
"—" denotes releases that did not chart or were not released in that territory.


  1. ^ a b c d e Jason Ankeny (July 16, 1939). "William Bell | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved October 18, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d "About". William Bell.
  3. ^ a b Bernstein, Jonathan (June 2, 2016). "William Bell On Making The Ballads That Made Him". Brooklyn Magazine.
  4. ^ "Artists". Stax Records. Archived from the original on November 21, 2016. Retrieved October 18, 2016.
  5. ^ "Otis Redding". Stax Records. Archived from the original on October 11, 2016. Retrieved October 18, 2016.
  6. ^ "Sam & Dave". Stax Records. Archived from the original on October 11, 2016. Retrieved October 18, 2016.
  7. ^ "Isaac Hayes". Stax Records. Archived from the original on October 11, 2016. Retrieved October 18, 2016.
  8. ^ "The Staple Singers". Stax Records. December 19, 2000. Archived from the original on October 11, 2016. Retrieved October 18, 2016.
  9. ^ Murray, Noel (December 19, 2006). "William Bell: The Soul of a Bell · Permanent Records". The A.V. Club. Retrieved October 18, 2016.
  10. ^ "William Bell on Apple Music". Apple Music. July 16, 1939. Retrieved October 18, 2016.
  11. ^ a b c d e Bream, Jon (August 13, 2018). "At 79, William Bell proves to be consummate soul man at the Dakota in Minneapolis". Star Tribune. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  12. ^ "Soul man William Bell rides Grammy-winning comeback into Minneapolis and Duluth". Star Tribune.
  13. ^ Carty, Pat. "The Greatest Christmas Record of Them All?". Hot Press.
  14. ^ "The Soul Of William Bell". Vinyl Me Please. March 23, 2018.
  15. ^ a b Carr, Courtney (February 12, 2017). "William Bell Wins Best Americana Album at 2017 Grammy Awards". The Boot.
  16. ^ "Prom 65: Stax Records: 50 Years of Soul". BBC Music Events.
  17. ^ "William Bell at B.B. Kings (A Gallery)". Relix Media. April 23, 2018.
  18. ^ Nash, J. D. (August 19, 2016). "Memphis Music Documentary, 'Take Me to the River,' Now on Netflix".
  19. ^ Bell, William (March 24, 2016). "Songs We Love: William Bell, 'The Three of Me': The Record". Npr.org. Retrieved October 18, 2016.
  20. ^ a b Weingarten, Christopher R.; Shteamer, Hank; Spanos, Brittany; Exposito, Suzy; Johnston, Maura (February 13, 2017). "Grammys 2017: 20 Best and Worst Moments". Rolling Stone. Retrieved October 8, 2023.
  21. ^ Zusel, Yvonne (December 3, 2015). "William Bell and the persistence of soul power". Myajc.com. Retrieved October 18, 2016.
  22. ^ Whitmore, Laura B. (December 27, 2017). "Musical New Year's Resolutions: 10 Bands to See This Year". Parade.
  23. ^ a b "Mempho Music Festival Announces Daily Lineup". Business Wire. Memphis, Tenn. June 15, 2018. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  24. ^ "News". Williambell.com. May 6, 2023.
  25. ^ a b c McKay, Robin. "Blues Music Awards". Blues.org.
  26. ^ "Eric Clapton Releases Video for Holiday Song "Everyday Will Be Like a Holiday"". Jambands.com. December 6, 2019. Retrieved February 24, 2021.
  27. ^ "B.B. King The Thrill Is Gone". Blackbirdpresents.com. Retrieved February 24, 2021.
  28. ^ "National Endowment for the Arts Announces 2020 Recipients of Nation's Highest Honor in the Folk and Traditional Arts | NEA". www.arts.gov. Archived from the original on June 25, 2020. Retrieved January 13, 2022.
  29. ^ Linda Ronstadt. "Linda Ronstadt - Don't Cry Now". Amazon.com. Retrieved October 18, 2016.
  30. ^ a b "Homer Simpson - Born Under a Bad Sign". YouTube. September 18, 2010. Retrieved October 18, 2016.[dead YouTube link]
  31. ^ "Blues | The Official Jimi Hendrix Site". Jimihendrix.com. Retrieved October 18, 2016.
  32. ^ "Born Under a Bad Sign: Jimi Hendrix: MP3 Downloads". Amazon.com. Retrieved October 18, 2016.
  33. ^ "Photographic image of "Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday" record label" (JPG). Streamd.hitparade/ch. Retrieved October 18, 2016.
  34. ^ Erlewine, Stephen Thomas. "Robert Cray - Twenty: Review". AllMusic.
  35. ^ "Melissa Etheridge - MEmphis Rock and Soul". Blues Magazine. October 8, 2016. Retrieved July 22, 2019.
  36. ^ "W.C. Handy | Memphis Music Hall of Fame". memphismusichalloffame.com.
  37. ^ "2003 BMI Urban Awards: Photos". BMI.com. August 5, 2003.
  38. ^ Allgood, Tomeka (March 3, 2017). "Stax Museum Is Dedicated To Telling The Story of American Soul Music".
  39. ^ "Americana Music Association Announces Lifetime Achievement Honorees | AmericanaMusic.org". americanamusic.org. August 30, 2016.
  40. ^ "Memphis Music Hall of Fame announces 2016 inductees". The Commercial Appeal.
  41. ^ "'David Porter & Friends' Event to Honor William Bell with 2017 Epitome of Soul Award on November 11 at Horseshoe Tunica". October 11, 2017.
  42. ^ "NEA National Heritage Fellowships 2020". www.arts.gov. National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved October 12, 2020.
  43. ^ "Smithsonian Folklife Festival to Feature Program on Rhythm and Blues | Newsdesk". Newsdesk.si.edu. June 20, 2011. Retrieved October 18, 2016.
  44. ^ "STAX! The Memphis Sound". Memphissymphony.org. October 13, 2012. Retrieved October 18, 2016.
  45. ^ "William Bell Performs "You Don't Miss Your Water" at In Performance at the White House". YouTube. August 25, 2013. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021. Retrieved February 18, 2017.
  46. ^ "William Bell @ Billboard Live Tokyo - the Japan Times". Archived from the original on September 11, 2016. Retrieved August 8, 2016.
  47. ^ Kreps, Daniel (October 18, 2015). "Watch Justin Timberlake's Memphis Music Hall of Fame Induction". Rolling Stone. Retrieved October 18, 2016.
  48. ^ Light, Alan (June 1, 2016). "William Bell, a Stax Records Team Player, Upholds and Extends". The New York Times.
  49. ^ a b c d "William Bell - Awards". AllMusic. Archived from the original on March 7, 2013. Retrieved January 16, 2022.
  50. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 55. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  51. ^ "William Bell - Full Official Chart History". Official Charts Company. Retrieved January 29, 2022.
  52. ^ Ahmet Ertegun; Greil Marcus; Perry Richardson (2001). "What'd I say?": the Atlantic story: 50 years of music. p. 533. William Bell releases his compositions, 'I Told You So', 'Just As I Thought' (Steve Cropper and Deanie Parker), 'Somebody Mentioned Your Name' (William Bell and Booker T. Jones) and 'I'll Show You'

External links[edit]