Paul Williams was born July 13, 1915, in Lewisburg, Tennessee, and grew up as an only child. At the age of two, he and his family moved to Bowling Greene, Kentucky, and at age thirteen they moved to Detroit, Michigan.
Mr. Williams started playing the saxophone in junior high school. He received his first instrument as a Christmas gift from his mother when he was fifteen years old. He studied with private teachers and played in the school orchestras at Detroit’s Northeastern and Cass Technical high schools. While in high school, Paul teamed up with Lloyd Henderson and began playing in a Detroit club, a job that would last for five years. The music he performed then was radically different from the high powered rhythm and blues he featured so successfully in later years. They played the top 40 tunes of the day to white audiences. It wasn’t until after World War II while working at the Sensation Club with Clarence Dorsey’s band that Mr. Williams played for his first black audience. He moved from Dorsey’s band to King Porter’s band, and while with Porter recorded for the Paradise label and two sessions for the Savoy label. The second Savoy session produced the hit record “Thirty-Five Thirty.” On the strength of that tune, the Paul Williams Band began touring.
On February 20, 1948, the band played their first engagement outside of the Detroit area and broke all house records at the Royal Theater in Baltimore. It was Paul Williams’ cleverly reworked treatment of the 1928 Andy Gibson song, “D-Natural Blues,” that changed a whole generation of music, dance and Williams’ life. That tune, renamed “The Hucklebuck,” was a phenomenal success. It was recorded in December of 1948 on the Newark-based Savoy label, and it became an important precursor of rock ‘n’ roll. It hit number one in February 1949 and remained on the charts