Before he died -- at the age of 80 on March 29, 1999 -- Joe Williams, with his wife Jillean and some of his closest friends and collaborators, created the not-for-profit Joe Williams Every Day Foundation. Its aim -- to provide support for music and musicians, especially those in jazz, and to create career opportunities for deserving young talent.
Who was he exactly, and why is he so important in American music?
Joe Williams was, and remains, one of the great voices of jazz.
With the sole exception of Billie Holiday, possibly no other singer could convey both ballads and blues with such authority and appeal. His rich baritone voice, clear diction, masterly interpretation of lyrics, and tremendous stage presence brought Joe Williams international fame.
His associations with jazz greats of an earlier era are a measure of his talent. The early part of his 60+ year career found him with the bands of such jazz luminaries as Jimmie Noone, Coleman Hawkins, Andy Kirk, and Lionel Hampton.
But he came first to broad public attention in 1955 with his hit version of Memphis Slim's "Every Day I Have The Blues," recorded with the Count Basie Orchestra.
That famous LP (now CD) entitled "Count Basie Swings, Joe Williams Sings" established Joe as a major performer, and also put the Basie band firmly back in the public eye (and ear) after a period of postwar retrenchment.
Joe remained the Basie Orchestra's star singer until 1961, when he left to go out on his own.
As a solo artist, backed usually by a piano trio or quartet, Joe performed for almost forty years - and almost without a break -- in top jazz clubs and concert halls around the world.
Joe Williams performed in concert and on record with such stars as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, George Shearing, Nancy Wilson, Marlena Shaw, Mel Torme, and with celebrated blues shouters Jimmy Rushing and Big Joe Turner. He appeared frequently on national tv programs such as the "Tonight Show with Johnny Carson," the "Perry Como Show," and had a supporting role in the Bill Cosby comedies." He has won a multitude of awards, including a Grammy in 1985 for his recording "Nothing But The Blues," and was given "The Ella" award by the Society of Singers -- previous recipients having been Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. He was also invited to perform in the White House by Presidents Nixon and Clinton.
In 1983, a pavement star was laid for him in Hollywood's `Walk Of The Stars' -- next to that of Count Basie.
Possibly because he preferred to perform in the intimacy of a club setting Joe was an icon for jazz fans, but never quite a `household name' -- that is, someone known by everyone. However, Joe's many recordings prove his talent. And his success and artistic stature in American music are without question.