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Andre Williams (1936–2019), R&B singer known as the "Godfather of Rap"

Getty Images / Redferns / Brigitte Engl

He wrote the R&B standard "Shake a Tail Feather"

Andre Williams was an R&B singer who had hits in the 1950s with "Bacon Fat" and the too-raunchy-for-radio "Jail Bait." Known as the "Godfather of Rap" for the spoken-sung style he adopted when he wanted to be a recording star but knew he couldn't sing well enough, Williams recorded with labels including Detroit-based Fortune Records and Chicago's Chess Records. His most enduring composition is "Shake a Tail Feather," which became an R&B standard after he co-wrote it, recorded first by the Five Dutones and more famously by Ike and Tina Turner as well as by Ray Charles for the 1980 movie "The Blues Brothers." He wrote songs for Parliament and Funkadelic, and produced for musicians including Ike Turner and Bobby "Blue" Bland, but he also continued recording and performing his own music all his life, including his 2017 album "Don't Ever Give Up."

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Died: March 17, 2019 (Who else died on March 17?)

Details of death: Died in Chicago of colon cancer at the age of 82.


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Motown years: Williams made his way from his Alabama home to Detroit in his teens, where he met a young Berry Gordy. Gordy hired Williams to work in A&R, helping develop new talent, but Williams also showed off his talent as a songwriter and producer there. Motown records he composed included Stevie Wonder's first song, "Thank You for Loving Me," as well as Mary Wells' "Oh Little Boy."

On being called the Godfather of Rap: “When I first did that thing of talking on my records, they thought I was an idiot. 'Who's this guy who goes and talks on a record?' You have to be creative and that's what I was doing. I'm not trying to take credit for the rappers today but it's nothing new to me. I've been there. It's Andre Williams.” —From an interview with Red Bull Music Academy Daily

What people said about him: “Andre Williams makes Little Richard sound like Pat Boone.” —Lux Interior of punk band the Cramps

“A funky farewell to the great Andre Williams — a sharp-dressed, hard-hustling cat who made incredible records in several different eras… Rest in Peace, Mr. Rhythm.” —Music journalist Dan Epstein

Full obituary: Detroit News

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