A pivotal figure in the transition from big band to rhythm & blues, Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams was an accomplished saxophonist and bandleader whose influential sound left a lasting impact on the music industry. Born on July 13, 1915, in Lewisburg, Tennessee, Williams’ expressive tenor saxophone playing and pioneering arrangements have cemented his status as a significant contributor to American music.
Williams found his calling to music at a young age. His early career was marked by his tenure with Clarence Dorsey’s big band in the late 1930s. In 1947, Williams formed his own band, Paul Williams and His Hucklebuckers, making a significant impact on the rhythm & blues scene. The band’s breakthrough hit, “The Huckle-Buck,” an adaptation of Charlie Parker’s “Now’s the Time,” topped the R&B charts for a remarkable 14 weeks in 1949. This energetic, danceable tune brought Williams to the forefront of the music industry and became so popular that it inspired a dance craze, forever associating Williams with the nickname “Hucklebuck.”
Throughout the 1950s, Williams and his band toured extensively, recording numerous hits and entertaining audiences with their dynamic performances. However, with the advent of rock and roll, the popularity of R&B bands declined. Williams adeptly navigated this transition by becoming a popular backing musician for stars such as James Brown and Little Richard.
In addition to his performing career, Williams was instrumental in establishing the groundbreaking record label, Sarah Vaughan and Pearl Bailey. As an A&R man for the label, Williams was pivotal in cultivating new talent and shaping the sound of R&B in the 1950s and 1960s.
Beyond his work in music, Williams was known for his involvement in various philanthropic endeavors, using his influence to advocate for African American rights and education. He served as a mentor to young musicians, sharing his knowledge and passion for music with the next generation.
Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams passed away in 2002, but his legacy continues to inspire saxophonists and music enthusiasts alike. His innovative approach to R&B, unique saxophone style, and commitment to mentorship have left an indelible mark on the music world.