Philidelphia soul singer Billy Paul, who achieved worldwide fame in 1972 for his Grammy-winning hit “Me and Mrs. Jones,” has died at 81 after a brief battle with cancer, according to NBC Philadelphia. The singer died early Sunday morning at his home in Blackwood, New Jersey, after a brief hospitalization.
According to his manager, Beverly Gay, Billy Paul (born Paul Williams) was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer last week and taken to Temple Hospital University in Philidelphia, Pennsylvania. Gay confirmed that Paul died of complications from the cancer. He had, in January, received birthday wishes from President Obama.
A message, confirming his death, was posted on Billy Paul’s website.
“We regret to announce with a heavy heart that Billy has passed away today at home after a serious medical condition.
“We would like to extend our most sincere condolences to his wife Blanche and family for their loss, as they and the world grieves the loss of another musical icon that helped pioneer today’s R&B music. Billy will be truly missed.
“Please share your thoughts, messages and stories of Billy as we remember this legendary artist, family member and friend.”
Paul is best remembered for his chart-topping hit “Me and Mrs. Jones,” which was number one the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts for three weeks at the end of 1972, and won him a Grammy Award; the song was written and produced by legendary Philadelphia soul pioneers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, and released on Gamble’s label, Gamble Records — the same label his first album, Feelin’ Good at the Cadillac Club, was released under in 1968.
The song gained renewed attention in 2007 when Canadian singer Michael Bublé did a cover, released as the second single on his Call Me Irresponsible album.
Billy Paul was born December 1, 1934, in Philadelphia. He began his music career at age 11, appearing on local radio station WPEN, and attended both the West Philadelphia Music School and the Granoff School of Music. He performed with many legendary jazz and soul musicians early in his career, at local clubs and campuses, including Charlie “Bird” Parker, Nina Simone, Miles Davis, and Roberta Flack.
According to an interview with Blues & Soul, Paul was drafted into the army in 1957 at 22. He was stationed with both Elvis Presley and Gary Crosby, Bing Crosby’s son. Paul and Crosby started a band; Presley, wanting “to get away from the music for a while,” declined to join.
“We were in Germany and we said we’re going to start a band, so we didn’t have to do any hard work in the service. We tried to get Elvis to join but he wanted to be a jeep driver. So me and Gary Crosby, we started it and called ourselves the Jazz Blues Symphony Band. Some famous people came out of that band; Cedar Walton, Eddie Harris and we toured all over Germany. Elvis didn’t wanna join us. I used to see him every day but he drove the jeep for the Colonel. He didn’t want to join our band. He wanted to get away from music for a while, while he was in the service you know.”
Paul was active until his death, participating on an album by French singer Chimène Badi in 2011, and recently receiving the 2015 AMG Favorite Retro Artist of the Year award and the Sandy Hosey Lifetime Achievement Award during the AMG Heritage Awards broadcast in 2015. He also benefited fellow musicians off the stage, winning several lawsuits which would later set a precedent for awarding unpaid royalties to artists.
Rest In Peace, Billy Paul.
[Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images]