William Bell - Biography
Record Producer - Songwriter - Entertainer - Business Man
In a distinguished career as a singer, songwriter and producer, William Bell has come to define the essence of “soul.” Born in Memphis but based in Atlanta since 1970, William Bell was one of the pioneers of the classic Stax/Volt sound, joining such other illustrious musical forces at that label as Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Isaac Hayes, Booker T. & the MG’s, Albert King, Eddie Floyd, Carla and Rufus Thomas, The Staple Singers and the Bar-Kays, among others.
William recorded his first sides as a member of the group the Del Rios. In 1961, he made his solo recording debut with the classic single, “You Don’t Miss Your Water,” which became one of the fledgling label’s first major hits.
After a two-year stint in the Armed Forces, William released his first full-length album in 1967, the classic The Soul of a Bell, which included the Top 20 hit single, “Everybody Loves a Winner.” That same year, blues great Albert King recorded what came to be his signature tune, “Born Under a Bad Sign,” also written by Bell, which has since become one of the most-recorded blues songs.
Among his other classic hits at Stax were “Any Other Way,” “Never Like This Before,” “A Tribute to a King” (William’s personal tribute to Stax legend Otis Redding), “I Forgot to be Your Lover,” his internationally-acclaimed duet with Judy Clay, “Private Number,” and the perennial Christmas music favorite, “Every Day Will Be Like a Holiday.”
In 1970, William moved to Atlanta and struck pay dirt in 1977 with “Tryin’ to Love Two” on Mercury Records, which topped the R&B charts and eventually spent more than six months there.
As a songwriter, William Bell’s compositions have also been recorded by such diverse stars as Otis Redding, Eric Clapton, Billy Idol, Lou Rawls and Rod Stewart, among many others.
In 1985, William launched Wilbe Records in Atlanta and issued the album Passion, which produced three chart singles in the U.S. and was a major hit in the U.K. “I Don’t Want to Wake Up Feeling Guilty,” a duet with Janice Bullock from that album, stayed on the American charts for close to nine months. A song from that album, “Headline News,” was released as a single in England and was later voted one of the top ten records in 1987 by the readers of Blues & Soul magazine in the U.K.
In addition to releasing more of his own albums in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, William began to produce and develop other artists for his Wilbe label, which is nationally. After 1992, he took a break from recording, but continued to perform around the world. Some of his performing highlights during that period included the renowned Montreux Jazz Festival in 1995 and three memorable nights during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta that saw him paired with such fellow Memphis legends as Rufus Thomas and Ann Peebles.
1997 turned out to be a very rewarding year for William, as he reaped accolades from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, winning their R&B Pioneer Award; and The State of Georgia, which inducted him into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame by then-governor, Zell Miller.
In 2000, he returned to the recording studio and released “A Portrait Is Forever”, an album of all original songs, on his Wilbe label.
Other awards he’s received over the last few years include the prestigious W.C. Handy Heritage Award in 2003; and that same year, he received the BMI Songwriter’s Award for his tune, “Put That Woman first,” recorded by Jaheim. In 2004, he received the Joe Pope Pioneer Award, presented at the Beach Music Awards. In addition, Wilbe Records was voted “Record Label of the Year” in 2004 at the Southern Konnection Radio and DJ Conference, and was voted “Record Label of the Year” in 2008 and 2010 by the Jus’ Blues Foundation.
William is also a member of the Memphis Music Hall of Fame and featured prominently in the Stax Museum.
After an absence of over five years, William Bell released a brand new studio album, “New Lease on Life” in the spring of 2006, whose title track charted high on the southern soul charts. “New Lease on Life” is packed with the kind of classic songs and grooves that fans of William have come to expect. In addition to “New Lease on Life,” other standout songs in an album full of highlights include the testifying “Playaz Only Love You (When They’re Playing),” the soulful duet with Jeff Floyd on “Somebody’s Gonna Lose A Good Woman” , plus “My Body Don’t Know”, “Got An Island Feeling”, “Treat Her Right (Like a Lady)”, the gospel-influenced “Save Us” and “Every Sunday Morning.”
William also continues to produce and develop a number of new artists on his Wilbe label, such as Jeff Floyd, Lola, Reginald “Wizard” Jones & The “Total Package Band”.
William Bell “Live In New York City”, his only live recording, is also now available!
In 2012 William performed with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and made three appearances in Concert at the Lincoln Center in New York City. Also he performed for the Smithsonian Festival in Washington DC, which drew almost a million people in three days.
In 2013 William completed a successful tour of Europe, culminating with an appearance with Tom Jones at Royal Albert Hall.
William was also honored to perform for the President of the United States at the Whitehouse, to rave reviews.
Additionally William continues to be involved with the STAX Soulsville USA appearances and the STAX Music Academy Kids, performing with them on numerous occasions. He is also involved with the "Take Me To The River" educational initiative, involving The Berkley School of Music, The New York Music School and The Grammy Hall of Fame.
In 2014 William Bell appeared in the critically acclaimed and award winning movie
“TAKE ME TO THE RIVER”, a Martin Shore Production. In connection with the film, William Bell still travels the world, attending film festivals and performing concerts.
William has performed highly successful concerts in Tokyo, Japan and Krakow, Poland.
He completed a CD project with Concord / Stax that was released in 2016 and also filmed a segment on the TV series “Quarry” for release in 2016.
He also filmed a part two segment of “Take Me To The River” New Orleans.
He is an inductee of "The Memphis Music Hall Of Fame”.
Internationally he was honored to receive the “L’academie Du Jazz Paris” award as a vocalist.
In February 2017 William received a Grammy for his latest CD on STAX/Concord Records
“This Is Where I Live” for Americana Album of the Year and performed on the live TV presentation with Gary Clark, Jr. !
In 2020 William was honored with the National Endowment of the Arts "NEA" lifetime award, the nation's highest honor in the folk and traditional arts.
In April 2023 William Bell released an Album titled “One Day Closer To Home” with 12 NEW songs. William Bell continues to be a major force in the music industry!