Billy Paul, the soul singer best known for the number one hit and Philadelphia soul classic, Me and Mrs Jones, has died aged 80.
Paul, whose career spanned for more than 60 years, died at his home in Blackwood, New Jersey, his co-manager, Beverly Gay, told Associated Press. Paul, 80, had been diagnosed recently with pancreatic cancer, Gay said.
Known for his beard and large glasses, Paul was one of many singers who found success with the writing and producing team of Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, whose Philadelphia International Records also released music by the O’Jays, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, and Lou Rawls.
Me and Mrs Jones, which reached number one in the US at the end of 1972 and number 12 in the UK, was an extramarital confession and a characteristic Gamble and Huff production, setting Paul’s thick tenor against a lush and sensuous arrangement. Many fans best remember the moment when Paul’s otherwise subtle vocals jump as they reach the title words, stretching out “Me” and “And” into multiple syllables and repeating “Mrs Jones, Mrs Jones, Mrs Jones.” (Paul himself was married to the same woman for decades).
Paul continued to perform live until he fell ill and his manager said he had been lining up numerous appearances at the time of his death.
He was born Paul Williams but later agreed to his manager’s suggestion that he change his name to Billy Paul to avoid confusion with songwriter Paul Williams and other musicians with the same name. A Philadelphia native, he sang for much of his life, performing with such jazz stars as Charlie Parker and Dinah Washington and being featured on a handful of singles while still in his teens.
Paul was drafted into the military in his early 20s, and found himself on the same base in Germany with a couple of famous show business names, Elvis Presley and Gary Crosby, Bing Crosby’s son.
By the mid-1960s, the Beatles had inspired him to incorporate more rhythm ’n blues into his singing and he had found a new home for his recordings after meeting Gamble at a Philadelphia music shop. His early albums with Gamble and Huff, including Ebony Woman and Going East, sold modestly, before Me and Mrs Jones briefly made him a superstar.
Paul faced numerous obstacles following his biggest hit. Radio stations resisted his more socially conscious follow-up song, Am I Black Enough for You and Jesse Jackson was among those who objected to the explicit Let’s Make a Baby.
Paul is survived by his wife, Blanche Williams, with whom he had two children. Although he endured many difficult moments with Gamble and Huff, he would look back on those years as a lost golden age.- RIP - Billy Paul