Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Pipe Smoker: Joe Williams

Joe Williams (1918 - 1999)

Born Joseph Goreed in Cordele, Georia, his father abandoned his family when Joe was young so his mother moved them both in with her parents, then moved to Chicago alone and worked until she had saved enough money to bring Joe with her.  It was there that he was exposed to Chicago's thriving jazz scene and fell in love with the music.

As a teen he taught himself to play piano and formed a gospel quartet that sang at local church functions.  He later began singing solo with various local bands and began earning a little money.  At 16 he dropped out of school to pursue a career in music, at which time he adopted the last name of Williams as a stage name.

In 1938 he got his first break when jazz musician Jimmie Noone hired him to sing with his band.  He became more and more well-known, eventually being hired as a replacement singer for Lionel Hampton's band in 1942, but then lost that job when the regular singer returned.  But during his time with Hampton, his fame grew in leaps and bounds.

In 1954, he was hired as the male vocalist for the Count Basie Orchestra.  He stayed with Count Basie until 1961.

Williams continued to sing for numerous big names in jazz, and in the 1980s was cast in a recurring role as Grandpa Al Hanks (Heathcliff Huxtable's father-in-law) on The Cosby Show.

He was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1983, next to Count Basie's star.


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