George Williams

Tymes lead singer with hits such as 'So Much in Love'

George Reginald Williams, singer and songwriter: born Philadelphia 6 December 1935; married (one son, one daughter); died Maple Shade, New Jersey 28 July 2004.

Over the years, many American soul singers have made their home in Britain. Having topped both the US and UK charts - with "So Much in Love" in 1963 and "Ms Grace" in 1975 respectively - George Williams left the Tymes and settled in England for many years, following in the footsteps of acts like the Drifters, Edwin Starr and the Three Degrees.

Immaculately turned out and much in demand as an entertainer on the nostalgia and cabaret circuit, Williams brought the house down with renditions of the Tymes' biggest hits which also included "People" (from the 1968 film Funny Girl), "You Little Trustmaker" and "God's Gonna Punish You".

Straight out of the army where he had been nicknamed "The Fox", the smooth-sounding lead vocalist joined the Latineers, a harmony group comprising the first tenor Albert "Caesar" Berry III, second tenor George Hilliard, baritone Norman Burnett and bass singer Donald Banks, in 1961. The Philadelphia quartet had been together five years and became a more polished quintet with the addition of Williams, who was heavily influenced by the phrasing and delivery of Johnny Mathis.

In 1963, they entered a local Talent Hunt sponsored by the manufacturers of Tip Top bread and the Philadelphia radio station WDAS and made such an impression that one of the judges recommended them to Billy Jackson, the A&R director of Cameo-Parkway Records, who signed the group and renamed it the Tymes.

When the multi-tasking Jackson heard "As We Stroll Along", a work-in-progress song by George Williams, he improved on the original idea with the help of his fellow producer Roy Straigis and created the gorgeous ballad "So Much in Love". Vivian Williams, George's wife of more than 40 years, remembers that their romance was its inspiration:

When we were in our teens, I lived in South Philly and I used to sneak up to North Philly to see him. We would walk in the park and hold hands.

Released in June 1963 complete with birds and waves sound effects and finger snaps recalling the golden-era of doo-wop, "So Much in Love" caught the imagination of American teenagers and crossed over from the R&B chart to the Hot 100. By August, the song had replaced Jan and Dean's "Surf City" at the top of the US charts and made No 21 in the UK after it was featured on an edition of BBC Television's Juke-Box Jury with the Beatle John Lennon among the panellists.

Their follow-up single was a cover version of Johnny Mathis's "Wonderful! Wonderful!", which made the US Top Ten, and the next single, "Somewhere", proved a smash but the Tymes struggled to maintain their momentum and supplemented their income by doing backing vocals on recordings by other Cameo-Parkway acts. They left Cameo-Parkway for a short spell with MGM in 1966 and issued a version of the standard "These Foolish Things" on their own Winchester label before their cover of Barbra Streisand's "People" on Columbia charted on both sides of the Atlantic in 1968.

The producers and songwriters Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who nearly signed them to their embryonic Sound of Philadelphia International label, described Williams as the finest singer they had ever heard. With Charles Nixon replacing George Hilliard the Tymes hit their stride again on RCA in 1974 with the catchy proto-disco "You Little Trustmaker" and the soulful "Ms Grace" which knocked "Down Down" by Status Quo off the No 1 slot in the UK in January 1975.

However, "God's Gonna Punish You", "It's Cool" and "Goin' Through the Motions" proved only minor hits in 1976 and Williams left the group in 1978 to settle in London and then Kent. He recorded with the British jazz-funk group the Chosen Three and delighted European audiences when performing his oldies well into the new millennium before returning to the US in 2002.

Pierre Perrone

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