Billy Daniels (Billy Daniels)

Billy Daniels

Billy Daniels was born in Jacksonville, Florida, where his father was a postmaster and notary. His mother was a schoolteacher and organist. Daniels had a heritage of Portuguese sailor, Native American (Choctaw), African American, and frontiersman Daniel Boone. In 1935, Daniels moved from Jacksonville to New York to attend Columbia University. He planned to become a lawyer, but he was sidetracked during the Depression. His grandmother was a seamstress in Harlem for the Ziegfeld Follies, and she encouraged her grandson to sing at Dickie Wells, the club where he first worked as a dishwasher, then a singing waiter. There he was discovered by bandleader Erskine Hawkins, who hired him as a featured vocalist. He toured with the Erskine Hawkins Band in 1935–36 and then returned to Harlem. Throughout 1938, he sang daily on New York radio for 12 different sponsors. “It was me or the horse racing,” Daniels remarked. Billy Daniels performed frequently at nightclubs on New York’s famed 52nd Street, where he was one of the first singers to leave the big-band scene and pursue a solo career. He sometimes made three 52nd Street club performances per night. In 1945, he played intermission with Charlie Parker at the Spotlite Club on 52nd Street. Daniels had several accompanists, including Nat Cole, while in New York. In 1948, he teamed with ex-big-band pianist Benny Payne, who had been Cab Calloway’s pianist in the Cotton Club. Payne remained as accompanist for the rest of Daniel’s career.

Billy Daniels was a pioneer in the new medium of television with his own television series on ABC in 1952. The Billy Daniels Show was sponsored by Rybutol, a popular vitamin tablet at the time. This 15-minute show, telecast from New York on Sunday evenings from the what was later to become The Ed Sullivan Theater (and now The Late Show) was a milestone: the first sponsored network television series starring a black performer. He appeared on television in the US and UK and Australia and Canada throughout the 1950s and 1960s with performances on The Milton Berle Show and ‘The Ed Sullivan Show. His films include When You’re Smiling (Columbia, 1951) and Columbia’s Sunny Side of the Street (Columbia, 1952). Daniels’ recordings cover the period of transition from 78-rpm to the dawn of microgroove recording. Remembered mostly for his charismatic live performances, he made an album at Abbey Road, The Magic of Billy Daniels (1978), which contained a disco version of “That Old Black Magic”. He recorded one of the first soul records, “Woe Woe Woe”, a now rare recording. He died at the age of 73 in Los Angeles, California, and was buried at the El Camino Memorial Park in Sorrento Valley, San Diego, California. He was one of the first African-American entertainers to cross over into the mainstream and his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame lies alongside that of Jerry Lewis.

Born

  • September, 12, 1915
  • USA
  • Jacksonville, Florida

Died

  • October, 10, 1988
  • USA
  • Los Angeles, California

Cemetery

  • El Camino Memorial Park
  • San Diego, California
  • USA

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