Jazz Great Joe Williams Mourned At Vegas Funeral By Cathy Scott
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Singers, musicians and composers paid their last
respects to jazz great Joe Williams Wednesday, rejoicing in his life and
mourning his death as more than 500 people attended his funeral service.
Williams, a legendary blues and jazz singer whose powerful baritone could
deliver blues, standards and ballads with force and tenderness, died March
29 after being hospitalized for a week with a respiratory problem. He had
left the hospital and was walking home when he collapsed on a street near
his Las Vegas home. He was 80. Nancy Wilson and Diane Schuur sang a capella
in tribute to Williams, but crooner Robert Goulet, choking back tears,
told the standing-room-only congregation that he had ``humbly declined''
to sing when asked by Williams's wife, Jillean. ``There will be no singing
for me today,'' Goulet said. ``I came to say good-bye. I knew that someday
you'd have to go Joe. I didn't know it would be so soon.'' Singer Don Cunningham,
leader of the Cunninghams, a jazz quintet with whom Williams occasionally
performed, told mourners, ``Joe just sang the blues and made you tap your
feet. He's in his own space and his own place and he's gone home. Sing
on, Joe, that's what you always told me.'' Long-time friend and jazz singer
Joe Udkoff said an interviewer once asked Williams when he was going to
retire. ''Joe's reply was 'When I begin singing off key.' He never did,''
Udkoff told mourners at the First Church of Religious Science in Las Vegas
where Williams was a member. Williams sang as a regular with the Count
Basie Band from 1954 to 1961 and became an international star. After the
big-band era, he continued to perform with small groups and in 1985 he
won a Grammy Award for best jazz vocal performance for his album ``Nothin'
But The Blues.'' President Clinton, on learning of Williams' death last
week, said he and his wife Hillary Rodham Clinton were deeply saddened.
``He was a national treasure. For the better part of this century, America
was blessed with Joe Williams' smooth baritone voice and peerless interpretations
of our favorite ballads,'' Clinton said in a statement. ``Hearing Joe Williams
sing at the White House in 1993 remained one of my favorite memories,''
he added. Branching out from the jazz scene to network television, Williams
was a recurring character on hit NBC comedy ``The Cosby Show'' in the 1980s,
playing Bill Cosby's father-in-law. NEXT