Claude Williams, jazz violinist for over 80 years, died April 26, in Kansas
City, Missouri. He was 96. He continued to perform professionally until shortly before
his death. Williams helped solidify the role of the violin in the world of jazz
throughout his long and distinguished career. He introduced jazz fiddling to
generations of players through his innovative playing, his active participation
in fiddle camps and workshops, and his gracious and indomitable spirit.
He began his professional career in 1927 when he moved to Kansas City and played
with a number of bands, including the Twelve Clouds of Joy, the Cole Brothers
(featuring young Nat "King"Cole) and the Alphonso Trent Band. In 1936, playing
guitar and violin, he joined the Count Basie Band and was recognized as
"Guitarist of the Year" in that year’s reader’s poll by Downbeat Magazine. He
left the Basie band in 1937, when John Hammond, who disliked Jazz violin,
convinced Basie to replace Williams.He returned to Kansas City where he formed his own group. In addition to his
long collaboration with Kansas City’s master jazz pianist Jay McShann, Williams
also played with Buddy Tate, Don Byas, and Lloyd Glenn among many others.
Williams was discovered by the folk world through his appearances in the
“Masters of the Folk Violin” tour, produced by the National Council for the
Traditional Arts. Williams shared the stage with other greats such as bluegrass
fiddler Kenny Baker, Cajun fiddler Michael Doucet, and a teenaged fiddle
sensation named Alison Krauss.
He performed at the White House a number of times. In 1998, he received a
National Heritage Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Williams was a member of the Oklahoma Music Hall of Fame and the recipient of a
Charlie Christian Jazz Award from Black Liberated Arts, Inc.
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