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Andre Williams, R&B Singer and ‘Godfather of Rap,’ Dead at 82

Rolling Stone — Ryan Reed

R&B singer-producer Andre Williams has died at age 82. His label, Pravda Records, confirmed the news on Facebook, writing, “It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of legendary artist Andre Williams … He touched our lives and the lives of countless others.”

Williams’ manager, Kenn Goodman, confirmed to Billboard that the musician died Sunday, March 17th in Chicago, Illinois while in hospice care, two weeks after he was diagnosed with colon cancer. He noted that the disease spread to Williams’ lungs and brain, after which point “his body started shutting down pretty quickly.” He had reportedly been battling several other health issues, including seizures and strokes, though he was “committed to trying to sing and record again.”

Zephire “Andre” Williams was born November 1st, 1936 in Bessemer, Alabama. After moving to Detroit, Michigan in the early 1950s, he found a home in the city’s R&B scene and signed with the R&B label Fortune Records as a teenager. Williams fronted the 5 Dollars and issued hit solo tracks like “Jail Bait” and “Bacon Fat”; on the latter, he utilized a spoken-sung technique that earned him the nickname “the Godfather of Rap.” He was also billed as “Mr. Rhythm” during his tenure with the label. 

Williams became affiliated with the burgeoning Motown label in the 1960s — co-writing the song “Thank You (For Loving Me All the Way)” for a 13-year-old Stevie Wonder and working with artists like the Temptations and the Contours. He also co-wrote the soul song “Shake a Tail Feather,” which Ray Charles famously performed in the 1980 film comedy The Blues Brothers.

In later decades, while maintaining a solo career, he collaborated with artists like Ike & Tina Turner, Mary Wells, Parliament and Red Hot Chili Peppers. He released his final album, Don’t Ever Give Up, in 2016.

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