In an already tragic year for music biz deaths, it’s now been confirmed that veteran soul and jazz singer BILLY PAUL died yesterday, Sunday April 24th. He was aged 81 and died at his home in Blackwood New Jersey. Reports suggest that he had been suffering from pancreatic cancer and he had been admitted to the Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia a week ago.
His website posted the following message: “We regret to announce with a heavy heart that Billy has passed away today at home after a serious medical condition. We would like to extend our most sincere condolences to his wife Blanche and family for their loss, as they and the world grieves the loss of another musical icon that helped pioneered today’s R&B music. Billy will be truly missed. Please share you thought s, messages and stories of Billy as we remember this legendary artist, family member and friend.”
Billy Paul was born Paul Williams on 1st December 1934 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and he grew up in a jazz loving family. After attending Temple University and Granoff Music School, he became a professional singer and though he’d often perform pop, jazz became his first love. By the late 50s he’d appeared with people like Charlie Parker and Nancy Wilson and his first recording was ‘Why Am I?’ recorded for Jubilee Records. In the 60s he became friendly with Kenny Gamble with whom he recorded a live jazz album before recording the more soul-oriented ‘Ebony Woman’.
Billy became one of the first signings to Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International Records and his first album there, 1972’s ‘360 Degrees Of Billy Paul’, spawned the song that was to define him…. the timeless ‘Me And Mrs Jones’. When released a single the song became a worldwide number 1, going on to win the Grammy. Everything about ‘Me And Mrs Jones’ was perfect and it was going to be a hard act to follow it!
Sensibly Paul and Gamble and Huff chose something very different, the controversial ‘Am I Black Enough For You?’ and few were surprised when it failed to crossover. It enjoyed R&B success though as too did other memorable Billy Paul singles…. ‘Thanks For Saving My Life’, ‘Be Truthful To Me’, ‘Let’s Make A Baby’, and a cover of Paul McCartney’s ‘Let ‘Em In’.
Through the 80s and 90s Billy Paul flitted from label to label without too much success and he continued to perform right up to the time of his death. With a sad irony he’d been part of David Gest’s soul revues (Gest, of course, died earlier this month) and ‘Me And Mrs Jones’ was always the show stopping highlight.