The music world suffered yet another untimely blow as Philadelphia R&B and Soul legend Billy Paul died over the weekend. Paul, who enjoyed a series of highs and lows in his long career, was 81 at the time of his passing.
Paul was born Paul Williams on Dec. 1, 1934 and raised primarily in North Philadelphia, and was influenced by female jazz greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughn among several others. Paul’s career began when he was just 11 years old, which is when he began his classical vocal training at the West Philadelphia School of Music and the Granoff School of Music. Before long, and after taking the stage name Billy Paul, he began signing with some of his favorites across his hometown.
In the early 50’s, Paul began recording music and was well on his way to becoming a full-time recording artist when he was drafted into the Armed Services in 1957. He was stationed with Elvis Presley and Gary Crosby, the son of actor Bing Crosby. Paul formed a military band in order to avoid the harder jobs offered to soldiers at the time and tried to get Presley to join his efforts but he refused.
After serving, Paul formed a band and crossed paths with legendary groups such as The Blue Notes, The Flamingos, and The Moonglows. He and Moonglows singer Marvin Gaye forged a tight partnership in the earliy ’60’s, and Paul continually praised Gaye’s work in his later years.
Paul released his debut LP, Feelin’ Good At The Cadilac Club, in 1968, which was named for a famous performance venue in North Philadelphia. This would spell out a long partnership between Paul and the record mogul duo of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff of Neputne Records and Philadelphia International Records fame. Paul’s fourth LP, 360 Degrees Of Billy Paul, is when he finally broke out as an artist with the classic single “Me and Mrs. Jones” followed by the intense “Am I Black Enough For You” single.
Although Paul never reached the top of charts after the Grammy Award-winning and platinum-selling “Me and Mrs. Jones,” he enjoyed a steady and continued to tour his material in recent times until he began getting sick. After battling pancreatic cancer, Paul died last Sunday in his New Jersey home.
Several Hip-Hop productions feature samples of Paul’s music, including tracks from Gang Starr, J Dilla, Blu, Ludacris, Mary J. Blige among many others.
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