Although he was quite spirited playing jug, Clarence Williams was only a decent pianist and a likable but limited vocalist. However, he was also a talented composer, writing or co-writing dozens, of memorable songs like "Royal Garden Blues," "Everybody Loves My Baby," "West End Blues," "Sugar Blues," "Tain't Nobody's Business If I Do," and "Baby Won't You Please Come Home," and he was also a masterful organizer, responsible for scores of hot recordings issued under his name in the 1920s and '30s.
A superior businessman and an inventive hustler, Williams worked at all kinds of odd jobs in New Orleans, where he moved in 1906. He played piano in Storyville, always keeping aware of the latest hits from New York; he was a singer, dancer, and emcee with a minstrel show, and ran his own cabaret. He also co-ran a small publishing company with Armand J. Piron and soon realized its potential. Williams moved at first to Chicago, where he ran a music store, and then to New York, where he had great success with his publishing house. He composed songs, put together all-star groups to record them, and was also involved in selling sheet music of his hits; each activity helped the others. Williams managed some artists on the side, including Bessie Smith (whom he helped get started) for a brief time. Starting in 1923, he was also an A&R man for Okeh Records, and frequently accompanied blues singers.
At the height of his power in the early '30s, Clarence Williams' importance waned as the decade continued and swing took over. After 1937, he only appeared on one final session (two songs in 1941), concentrating on the business side of music. In 1943, he sold his company to Decca and became a shop owner in Harlem. Williams was seriously injured when hit by a taxi in 1956 and passed away in 1965. The 1976 bio-discography Clarence Williams by Tom Lord gives one an idea of his many accomplishments. ~ Scott Yanow