Published Mar 18, 2019Andre Williams — an R&B vocalist and producer who worked with the likes of Stevie Wonder, Ike Turner, the Sadies and the Contours — has died. News of the artist's passing was shared by his label, Pravda Records, over the weekend. Williams was 82.
Williams' manager, Kenn Goodman, told Billboard that the artist passed away on Sunday (March 17) surrounded by family while in hospice care in Chicago.
"He was diagnosed two weeks ago with colon cancer that spread to his lungs and brain," Goodman said, adding that Williams had battled other recent health issues including strokes and seizures, "but was committed to trying to sing and record again."
Born in Bessemer, AL, Zephire "Andre" Williams began his career in music after moving to Detroit as a teenager in the early 1950s, first making a name for himself by winning the top prize at the Warfield Theatre's amateur night eight weeks in a row.
After signing a recording contract with Fortune Records, Williams joined vocal group the Five Dollars. Renaming themselves Andre Williams and the Don Juans, the group delivered hits "Goin' Down to Tijuana" in 1955 and "Bacon Fat" in 1956. Williams' vocal delivery on the latter, which finds him talking in rhythm, would later earn him the nickname the "Godfather of Rap," as well as other nicknames such as the "Black Godfather" and "Mr. Rhythm."
In the early '60s, Williams worked as a writer/producer for Motown Records, co-writing "Thank You for Loving Me" for a young Stevie Wonder. He also worked with the Temptations and produced a trio of hits for the Contours with "Shake Sherry Shake," "Don't Let Her Be Your Baby" and "Can You Do It."
Williams signed with Chess Records subsidiary Checker Records in the late '60s, releasing singles "The Stroke," "Humpin', Bumpin' and Thumpin'" and "Cadillac Jack." After working with Ike Turner in the early '70s, he battled addiction and homelessness throughout the '80s.
Williams' career renaissance began with the release of 1996's Greasy and 1998's Silky. In 1999, he teamed with the Sadies to deliver the album Red Dirt, which saw the Canadian country rockers serve as Williams' backing band for the collection of covers and originals.
Williams and the Sadies would come together again for Night & Day in 2012. Pravda Records released Williams' final studio effort, Don't Ever Give Up, in 2017.