Sunday, June 30, 2013

Dewey President Williams

Born: Mar. 5, 1898  Ozark, AL

Died: Nov. 11, 1995

Sacred Harp Vocals Wiregrass Singers

Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame

1983 NEA National Heritage Fellow

Dewey President Williams was born March 6, 1898, in the Haw Ridge community, seven miles west of Ozark, in Dale County, Alabama. His parents, June and Anna (Bruner) Williams, were sharecroppers in Haw Ridge. His grandparents had been slaves in Barbour County, Alabama, before the Civil War.

As a child, Williams was instructed in the singing of Sacred Harp or shape-note hymns by his grandmother in the kitchen of her house. "I started when I was about seven years old," Williams said. "When I first started off, I'd hear my old folks singing at night, and I'd get up the next morning; me and my brother would set in the kitchen and take the book and look at it and sing the same songs they sung. We didn't know what we was doing, but we knew it was singing."

Williams attended public schools in Dale County through the third grade, but was forced to leave to join his father as a sharecropper. As he grew up, he learned more about the Sacred Harp and Seven Shaped Music from local music leaders, notably Webster Woods and Judge Jackson, two black singing school masters. Judge Jackson was the author and editor of The Colored Sacred Harp (1931), the only black Sacred Harp hymnal ever published.

The term "shape-note" refers to the four shapes (triangle, square, oval, diamond) used to designate the four tones of the scale (bass, alto, tenor, and treble) used in Sacred Harp arrangements. Sacred Harp is performed in unaccompanied four-part harmony, with the singing of the notes preceding the lyrics. Sacred Harp takes its name from the songbook The Sacred Harp, first published in 1844. Thirty-eight different shape-note tune books were published between 1798 and 1855, but The Sacred Harp is the only one that remains in common use. The songbooks were originally used in singing schools and were eventually used at singing conventions. They were never used historically as part of the liturgy of an established church. First developed in New England, Sacred Harp or shape-note singing is immensely popular in the Deep South. Southeast Alabama is the only area in the country where there is a vibrant black Sacred Harp tradition. Documentation dates the earliest black convention to 1880, and there is evidence that Sacred Harp was sung by African Americans before the Civil War.

During a typical sing, participants arrange themselves in a square according to voice part, the basses facing the trebles and the tenors facing the altos. A song leader stands in the middle of the square leading the singers, first through the notes to the songs and then through the lyrics, a practice emanating from the traditional singing school classes, where singers are taught the notes (musical syllables) and then the words.

Although African Americans sing essentially the same hymns as their Anglo counterparts, they perform in a somewhat different style. About these differences, Williams said, "White folks sing it faster than we do, as a rule. Singing is the understanding, but really and truly, we sing the way it was sung back ... years ago."

In 1921, Williams married Alice Nancy Casey in Ozark, Alabama; the couple had eight children. Williams continued to labor as a sharecropper and maintained a strong Christian faith. He was a member and deacon of the Church of God by Faith in Ozark. At age 40, Williams began to teach singing school himself, and over the next 25 years he traveled throughout southeast Alabama to instruct people in African American communities.

In 1956, he developed a Sunday morning singing program that aired weekly over radio station WOZK. In 1964, he began producing and directing a monthly television program dedicated to the celebration of Sacred Harp singing for television station WTVY, in nearby Dothan, Alabama.

After he retired from farming, Williams devoted himself full-time to teaching and performing Sacred Harp music. He organized the Wiregrass Sacred Harp Singers in 1971, and directed the group in performances and workshops throughout Alabama, as well as in touring programs in Washington, D.C.; Montreal, Canada; and Berea, Kentucky. In 1973, he worked with the Alabama State Council on the Arts and Humanities to reprint The Colored Sacred Harp. Williams was able to key and sing every part of every one of the more than 500 songs in The Sacred Harp, in addition to the 77 songs in The Colored Sacred Harp.


Photo credit: Peggy A. Bulger
Photo source: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,

More Info:


Video: Dewey Williams Heritage Award Winner Leads Amazing Grace

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Charles Cootie Williams

Born: July 10, 1908  Mobile, AL
Died: Sept. 15, 1985
Top trumpeter during the 1940's -Played with Benny Goodman, Chick Webb, Fletcher Henderson, Lionel Hampton, Teddy Wilson, and Billie Holiday, being showcased in Duke Ellington's band.
Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame

Charles Melvin "Cootie" Williams (July 10, 1911 – September 15, 1985) was an American jazz, jump blues,[1] and rhythm and blues trumpeter.

Born in Mobile, Alabama, United States, Williams began his professional career with the Young Family band, which included saxophonist Lester Young, when he was 14 years old.[2] According to Williams he acquired his nickname as a boy when his father took him to a band concert. When it was over his father asked him what he'd heard and the lad replied "Cootie, cootie, cootie".[3]
In 1928, he made his first recordings with pianist James P. Johnson in New York, where he also worked briefly in the bands of Chick Webb and Fletcher Henderson.[2] He rose to prominence as a member of Duke Ellington's orchestra, with which he first performed from 1929 to 1940. He also recorded his own sessions during this time, both freelance and with other Ellington sidemen. Williams also sang occasionally, a notable vocal collaboration with Ellington was the piece, "Echoes of the Jungle".[2] Cootie Williams was renowned for his growling "jungle" style trumpet playing (in the manner of Ellington's earlier trumpeter Bubber Miley and trombonist Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton) and for his use of the plunger mute.
In 1940 he joined Benny Goodman's orchestra, a highly publicized move that caused quite a stir at the time[4] (commemorated by Raymond Scott with the song "When Cootie Left the Duke"),[5] then in 1941 formed his own orchestra, in which over the years he employed Charlie Parker, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Bud Powell, Eddie Vinson, and other young players.
In 1947, Williams wrote the song "Cowpox Boogie" while recuperating from a bout with smallpox. He contracted the disease from a vaccination he insisted all band members receive.[6]
By the late 1940s Williams had fallen somewhat into obscurity, having had to reduce his band numbers and finally to disband.[2] In the 1950s, he began to play more rhythm and blues, and toured with small groups. In the late 1950s he formed a small jazz group and recorded a number of albums with Rex Stewart, as well as his own album, Cootie in Hi-Fi (1958).[2] In 1962, he rejoined Ellington and stayed with the orchestra until 1974, after Ellington's death. In 1975, he performed during the Super Bowl IX halftime show.
Cootie Williams died in New York on September 15, 1985, at age 74. Williams is a 1991 inductee of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.

Cootie Williams and His Orchestra 1941–1944 (Classics, 1995)
Cootie Williams and His Orchestra 1945–1946 (Classics, 1999)
Cootie Williams and His Orchestra 1946–1949 (Classics, 2000)
Cootie and Rex (Jazztone, 1957) (with Rex Stewart)
The Big Challenge (Jazztone, 1957) (with Rex Stewart)
Porgy and Bess Revisited (Warner Bros., 1958) (with Rex Stewart)
Cootie in Hi-Fi (Jazztone, 1958)

^ a b Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing. p. 181. ISBN 1-904041-96-5.
^ a b c d e Robinson, J. Bradford (1994). "Williams, Cootie". In Kernfeld, Barry. The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz. New York, New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 1290.
^ Curtis, Constance; Herndon, Cholie (30 April 1949). "Know your Boroughs Orchestra Men Talk About Show Business". The New York Amsterdam News. p. 15.
^ Visser, Joop (2001). "Disc Four - Take the A-Train". Duke Ellington - Masterpieces 1926-1949 (CD booklet). England: Proper. p. 39. PROPERBOX 25.
^ Schenker, Anatol (1995). Cootie Williams and His Orchestra 1941–1944 (CD booklet). France: Classics. p. 3. CLASSICS 827.
^ "The Laugh is on Maestro Cootie". The Afro American. 3 May 1947. Retrieved 28 November 2010.

More info:
Allmusic bio
Video: Cootie Williams - You Talk A Little Trash
Video: Cootie Williams - Mobile Blues


cootie williams albums
Amazon: Cootie Williams
iTunes: Cootie Williams