Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
(b 8 Oct. 1898, Plaquemine LA; d 6 Nov. '65, Queens, NYC) Composer, pianist, record producer, music publisher, also sometime vocalist. Other birth dates are mentioned; some favour 1893 as most logical, but his widow and death certificate give 1898. He was part Creole Negro, part Choctaw; worked in a hotel and learned to sing in a band in the streets as a child; ran away from home at twelve to work in a minstrel show, becoming MC and singer; returned to NO and studied piano infl. by Tony Jackson; said he was the first to 'write up north' for the new hit songs. Managed a cabaret '13; later danced in vaudeville; formed publishing company with bandleader/violinist/composer Armand John Piron (b 16 Aug. 1888, NO; d there 17 Feb. '43), later called Piron 'the Paul Whiteman of New Orleans'; Piron wrote 'Sister Kate'. Williams's own first song was 'You Missed A Good Woman (When You Picked All Over Me)'; he claimed to be the first to use the word 'jazz' on a piece of sheet music. Toured with Piron c'17 with W. C. Handy.
He moved to Chicago, then to NYC c'20; Willie 'The Lion' Smith said Williams was the first New Orleans musician to infl. jazz in NYC and first publisher to help black songwriters ('...nobody on Broadway would') incl. Smith, James P. Johnson, Fats Waller. First record Oct. '21 as vocalist accompanied by white band; he also made piano rolls. He acted as 'race records' A&R dir. (for OKeh '23--8); his countless recording projects helped the careers of Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Buster Bailey; he employed King Oliver, Don Redman, Coleman Hawkins, Lonnie Johnson, Bubber Miley, Tommy Ladnier, Jimmy Harrison; worked with vocalists Butterbeans and Susie, Sara Martin, Sippie Wallace, Eva Taylor (his wife from '21), many others; played on Bessie Smith sessions and she recorded many of his songs; he wrote words and/or music for 'Baby Won't You Please Come Home', 'Royal Garden Blues', 'Cake Walking Babies From Home', 'Gulf Coast Blues', 'Michigan Water Blues', 'Swing Brother Swing', 'The Stuff Is Here (And It's Mellow)', 'Wild Cat Blues', 'West End Blues', 'West Indies Blues', many more; often shared credit with Spencer Williams (no relation), allegedly took credit for Sun Ra's first recorded composition 'Chocolate Avenue' '35. Wrote music for flop Broadway show Bottomland '27; from late '30s concentrated on writing; sold his catalogue to Decca '43. He later ran shops in Harlem, went blind after being knocked down by a taxi '56 but continued working. Nearly 300 sides under his own name '21--38 incl. those issued by Clarence Williams and his Blue Five '23--6, and his Stompers, and his Orchestra, Blue Seven, Jazz Kings, Washboard Band, Bottomland Orchestra, Swing Band ('37), etc. A last Blue Five session on Bluebird '41 had both Williams and James P. on pianos, Wellman Braud on bass, Taylor singing (duet with Clarence on one side). Almost all the records were for ARC labels, now the property of CBS. 'Complete' series of compilations on Classics and EPM Musique. Clarence Williams by Tom Lord '76 was an exhaustive biodiscography, virtually a history of NYC race music, with rare photos from Eva's collection.