b. 1894, Monmouth, Illinois, USA, d. 2 January 1980, Chicago, Illinois, USA. A college graduate, Williams was nicknamed ‘Ink’ by musicians; he was the first, and in his time the most successful, black executive in the US record industry. In 1924, he joined Paramount, which he made perhaps the most successful of all ‘race’ labels in terms of both quality and quantity of output, recording Blind Lemon Jefferson, Papa Charlie Jackson and Ma Rainey, among others. Williams was careful to find out what black purchasers wanted; when replies to market research indicated overwhelming demand for blues, he abandoned his own preference for the likes of Paul Robeson. In 1927, Williams resigned to found the short-lived Black Patti label, moving on immediately to Vocalion Records, to whom he brought Georgia Tom, Tampa Red and Jim Jackson. In 1934, he became responsible for black A&R at Decca Records, recording Mahalia Jackson’s debut sides. After World War II, Williams operated a series of small labels, all of which suffered from undercapitalization and a loss of touch by Williams (as may be heard on Muddy Waters’ first commercial recording). As an executive, his income came from a share of publishing royalties and from padding his expense accounts; he said: ‘I was better than 50% honest, and in this business that’s pretty good’.
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