Williams (Goreed), Joe

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Williams (Goreed), Joe

Williams (Goreed), Joe (actually, Joseph), African American jazz and blues singer; b. Cordele, Ga., Dec. 12, 1918; d. Las Vegas, Nev., March 29, 1999. Though he sang urban and jump blues with a rangy bass- baritone reminiscent of Joe Turner, Williams consistently worked with jazz musicians, notably as the singer in Count Basie’s band from 1954 to 1961. That association established the late-blooming singer, especially through their recording of the R&B hit “Every Day,” enabling Williams to launch a 35-year solo career as a nightclub entertainer.

Willams was the illegitimate son of Willie Goreed and Anne Beatrice Gilbert. The family lived together briefly in Osilla, Ga., then Williams’s mother returned to live with her parents in Cordele before moving to Chicago and earning enough money as a domestic to bring her son, mother, and sister north when Williams was still a small child. His mother sang and played keyboards in church, where he first sang in public. At 16 he dropped out of high school to sing in a club for tips, making his professional debut in 1937 with Jimmie Noone’s band. He appeared with Coleman Hawkins’s big band in 1941 and toured with Lionel Hampton in 1943, later working with Andy Kirk, Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson, Red Saunders, and King Kolax. In 1943 he married Wilma Cote. They divorced in 1946 and he married Ann Kirksey, from whom he was divorced in 1950. He married Lemma Reid in 1951; they had two children and divorced on Sept. 10, 1964.

In 1950, Williams sang with a septet led by Count Basie during a Chicago engagement. Around this time he made his first recordings with Red Saunders. A session backed by King Kolax for the Chess Records subsidiary Checker included his first recording of “Every Day I Have the Blues” (music and lyrics by Peter Chatman, aka Memphis Slim), which entered the R&B singles charts in October 1952 and became a Top Ten hit. But Williams’s big break came at the age of 36, when he joined Count Basie as his permanent singer on Christmas Day 1954. In July 1955 they recorded a session for Norman Granz’s Clef Records label that included a remake of “Every Day I Have the Blues.” Released as “Every Day,” it reached the R&B charts in July and made the Top Ten.

In October 1957, Basie and Williams switched to Roulette Records and Williams recorded his first solo album, A Man Ain’t Supposed to Cry. The following month they appeared in the film Jamboree. They reached the pop singles charts in August 1958 with “Going to Chicago Blues” (music and lyrics by Count Basie and Jimmy Rushing, additional lyrics by Jon Hendricks), on which they were joined by the vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross. In December 1960 they appeared in the Jerry Lewis comedy Cinder fella.

Williams left Basie for a solo career in January 1961, initially backed by a quintet led by Harry “Sweets” Edison. From the start, he was able to play in the most prestigious nightclubs in the U.S., and by 1962 he was appearing at such notable events as the Newport Jazz Festival and touring overseas. That year, he signed to RCA Victor Records and made a series of albums for the label through 1965. On Jan. 7, 1965, he married Jillean Milne Hughes-D’Aeth, at first living with her in N.Y., then moving to Las Vegas in 1968.

Williams recorded less frequently and for less prominent record labels after the mid-1960s while maintaining his status as a major nightclub performer. In 1968 he returned to a big band format when he recorded the album Something Old, New and Blue with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orch. for United Artists Records. In July 1970 he had a non-singing acting role in the film The Moonshine War, and thereafter he made occasional appearances as an actor on television, notably a continuing role on The Cosby Show (1984-92). Starting in 1979 he was a frequent Grammy nominee in the Best Jazz Vocal Performance category, first gaining a nomination for the GNP/Crescendo album Prez and Joe, on which he was accompanied by the Lester Young tribute band Prez Conference.

He was nominated again in 1982 for his Warner Bros, album 8 to 51 Lose, won the award in 1984 for his Delos album Nothin’ but the Blues, and was nominated in 1986 for the Delos album I Just Want to Sing and in 1987 for the Verve album Every Night. In 1988 he duetted with Lena Home on “I Won’t Leave You Again” for her album The Men in My Life, and they earned a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Duo, or Group; he was nominated alone again in 1989 for his Verve album In Good Company.

Williams had periodically appeared with Count Basie during his solo years, and following Basie’s death in 1984 he undertook a tour of the U.S. and Europe with the Basie Orch. under the direction of Thad Jones in 1985. In March 1993 Williams initiated a recording contract with Telare Jazz by releasing Live at Orchestra Hall, Detroit, on which he was accompanied by the Basie Orch. His January 1994 Telare release, Here’s to Life, found him performing with the even larger backing of the British-based Robert Farnon Orch. In April 1995 he released Feel the Spirit, an album of spirituals. In 1996, at age 77, he headlined a concert at the JVC Jazz Festival in N.Y. He died of natural causes at 80 in 1999.


Every Day: Best of the Verve Years (ree. 1954-89; rei. 1993); Count Basie Swings/Joe Williams Sings (1955); The Greatest! (1957); Joe Williams Newport ’63 (1963); Presenting Joe Williams, Thad Jones and Mel Lewis (with) the Jazz Orchestra (1966); Live (1974); Prez Conference (1979); In Good Company (1989); Ballad and Blues Master (1992); Every Night (1992); Live at Orchestra Hall, Detroit (1993); Here’s the Life (1994); Feel the Spirit (1995).


L. Gourse, Every Day: The Story of J. W.(London, 1985).

—William Ruhlmann

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