Singer Andre Williams, the 'Godfather of Rap', Dead at 82

Photo: Paul Natkin (Getty Images)

R&B singer-producer Andre Williams, whose indelible musical journey included collaborative efforts with Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, and Ray Charles, has died at the age of 82.

On Wednesday, Williams’ record label, Pravda Records, announced his passing on Facebook, paying tribute to their fallen star.

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“It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of legendary artist Andre Williams,” they wrote. “He died this afternoon in Chicago at the age of 82. He touched our lives and the lives of countless others. We love you Dre.”

Billboard was able to confirm with Williams’ manager, Kenn Goodman, that the beloved musician, billed “Mr. Rhythm” during his tenure on Fortune Records, passed on Sunday, March 17 in Chicago, Illinois.

Williams was battling a number of health-related maladies, including seizures and strokes, when he was diagnosed with colon cancer two weeks ago. According to Goodman, the disease spread to Williams’ lungs and brain before “his body started shutting down pretty quickly.” But ever the fighter, Williams was wholly committed to “trying to sing and record again.”

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Born November 1, 1936 in Bessemer, Ala., Zephire “Andre” Williams relocated to Detroit as a teenager and joined Fortune Records, where he churned out hits like “Jail Bait” and “Bacon Fat” as the frontman of the 5 Dollars.

On “Bacon Fat” specifically, he employed a silky spoken-sung technique that would earn him the nickname “The Godfather of Rap.

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Rolling Stone notes that he eventually became affiliated with the burgeoning juggernaut Motown Records in the 1960's—co-writing “Thank You (For Loving Me All the Way)” for a 13-year-old Stevie Wonder and collaborating with the Contours and the Otis Williams-helmed Temptations.

Most famously, however, Williams co-wrote “Shake a Tail Feather, which is immortalized forever by Ray Charles’ performance of the song in the legendary 1980 comedy The Blues Brothers.

His final album, 1996's Don’t Ever Give Up, was preceded by collaborations with luminaries such as Parliament, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Mary Wells, and Ike & Tina Turner.

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Fans and collaborators alike took to Twitter to mourn the loss of the man who gave us “The Greasy Chicken.

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“There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t tackle and be 100 percent into,” Goodman told the Montgomery Advisor. “People loved him [...] He was a survivor, he was a hustler. He knew how to get onstage every night, no matter what condition he was in every day.”

To celebrate his legacy, Goodman said Williams will be subject of a documentary that will explore his final years. Additionally, a tribute concert is planned for next month in Chicago.

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“He was magic,” Goodman adds.

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About the author

Jay Connor

Menace to supremacy. Founder of Extraordinary Ideas and co-host and producer of The Extraordinary Negroes podcast. Impatiently waiting for ya'll to stop putting sugar in grits.