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Paul Hucklebuck Williams
*Paul Williams was born on this date in 1915. He was a Black musician.
From Lewisburg, Tennessee he was the only child of Flora Williams and Will E. Jones. At the age of two, he and his family moved to Bowling Greene, Kentucky, and at age thirteen they moved to Detroit, Michigan. Williams started playing the saxophone in junior high school. He received his first instrument as a Christmas gift from his mother when he was fifteen.
He studied with private teachers and played in the school orchestras at Detroit’s Northeastern and Cass Technical high schools. While in high school, Williams began playing in a Detroit club, a job that would last for five years. The music he performed then was the current top 40 tunes to white audiences.
It wasn’t until after World War II while working at the Sensation Club with Clarence Dorsey’s band that Williams played for his first Black audience. He moved from Dorsey’s band to King Porter’s band, and while with Porter recorded for the Paradise label and two sessions for the Savoy label. The second Savoy session produced the hit record “Thirty-Five Thirty.”
On the strength of that tune, the Paul Williams Band began touring. In 1948, the band played outside of the Detroit area at the Royal Theater in Baltimore. Williams’ cleverly reworked the 1928 Andy Gibson song, “D-Natural Blues” tune, and renamed it “The Hucklebuck,” and it was a success. It was recorded in December of 1948 and it hit number one in February 1949 and remained on the charts for thirty-two weeks.
“The Hucklebuck” sparked a dance craze as a shuffle-blues instrumental. It also gave Williams an identity: from 1949 until the end of his career, he was billed as Paul Hucklebuck Williams. He had a number of hits for Savoy between 1947 and 1951, including “Hastings Street Bounce,” “Thirty-Five Thirty,” and “Bouncing with Benson.” “The Hucklebuck” was by far the biggest.
On March 21, 1952, Williams became a part of rock history, when he was on the bill at the Moondog Coronation Ball, a show at the Cleveland Arena promoted by the disc jockey Alan Freed and now known as the first rock concert. As it happens, Williams’ band was the only act that performed that night: gate-crashing and overcrowding led fire marshals to stop the show shortly after it began.
Williams left Savoy Records later that year. He then recorded for various labels until 1962. Paul Williams and his band backed up many of the leading R&B and soul acts. In the middle ’60s, he was the music director for Lloyd Price and James Brown. After giving up touring, he turned to studio work. In 1968, in New York City, he opened his own booking agency, “The Entertainment Bureau.” In 1986, he made a special appearance at The National Museum of American History as part of the Smithsonian’s symposium on Rhythm and Blues. In 1992, he received The Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award. Paul Hucklebuck Williams died on September 14, 2002.