Williams, Claude

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Williams, Claude

Williams, Claude, American guitarist and string instrumentalist; b. Muskogee, Okla., Feb. 22, 1908. His first recordings were made for the Brunswick label in 1928, playing guitar and violin with the Twelve Clouds of Joy (a band led first by Terrence Holder, then by Andy Kirk) with pianist Mary Lou Williams arranging and composing. The band made their N.Y. debut at the Roseland Ballroom and at Harlem’s Savoy. Upon returning to Kansas City, the band became part of the thriving scene where musicians at 50 clubs near 18th and Vine battled it out in jams and cutting contests. After working awhile in Kansas City, he headed for Chicago where he was playing guitar with Eddie Cole’s band. When assembling his first band in 1936, Count Basie found him and hired him and put him in a prominent role (playing rhythm guitar) that garnered him brief national fame before he was replaced by Freddie Green. In the 1940s, he freelanced with various bands in the Midwest, and by the 1950s was using amplification on his fiddle. He worked in Los Angeles with Roy Milton’s Blues Band (1951-52), and in 1953 moved back to Kansas City to lead his own combo on fiddle and guitar. Saxophonist Eddie “Cleanhead” Vin-son was a member of that group. He led his own groups and freelanced around Kansas City throughout the 1960s, toured Europe in the 1970s, and worked and recorded with pianist Jay McShann into the 1980s. His last album to feature his guitar work was his 1980 album Fiddler’s Dream. Since then, he has focused exclusively on violin. He continued his freelance work and recorded a couple of albums during the 1980s and 1990s and began touring Europe in 1997. He has won numerous awards, including his 1989 induction into the Okla. Jazz Hall of Fame. He celebrated his 89th birthday teaching students at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and continued an active schedule with overseas tours, club appearances, an ocean cruise, and other engagements.


Live at J’s, Vol. I, 2 (1993); Statesmen of Jazz (1995); SwingTime in New York (1995); King of Kansas City (1997).

—Nancy Ann Lee

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Williams, Claude

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