Ulysses Kae Williams was born on February 24, 1921 in Denmark. No, not in Europe but a little town in South Carolina. However, he soon moved to Philadelphia where he grew up and received all his formal education. In the late thirties, Williams was sometimes called "Kid Swingster," and performed a song and dance act wherever and whenever he could.
In March of 1941, a half year prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, Kae entered the U.S. Army. In April of 1942, he received an honorary discharge while stationed at nearby Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. While in the service he was a member of the first all African-American field artillery battalion.
Then Williams got a job as a Youth Corp Coordinator. It was a city gig funded by a federal grant. His office was located in the famed Philadelphia Navy Yard. There, he instructed high school dropouts in good work habits, including attendance, punctuality, personal appearance and the value of dependability. He also was charged with the responsibility of applying a thorough working knowledge of policy rules, regulations and instructions pertaining to a broad range of personnel matters, including the counseling of employees and efforts to seek corrective actions or remedies to their problems.
Known as one of the earliest local disc jockeys of the blues, he broke into radio in 1943. Two years later, he went to WHAT Radio. At the same time, he also wrote for the Philadelphia Tribune (1945 to 1948) as Theatrical and Night Club critic. Six and a half years later, in 1951, he went to WDAS Radio, recently purchased by former Broadcast Pioneers' Vice-President Max M. Leon. Shortly after taking over the broadcast outlet, the station instituted an African-American music format.
In 1968, Williams became "Coordinator" of the station. By Spring of 1970, Kae Williams was no longer with the station. Kae's son, Darryl Williams said, "he was the second African-American to be hired in radio." He worked for numerous area radio stations, including, WDAS, WHAT, WCAM, WSSJ, WIBG and WVCH.
In early 1954, an R&B group with gospel roots called "The Dreamers" met Kae at the studios of WHAT Radio. Dolly and Billy Banks, owners of the station, allowed Kae to invite area teenagers into a studio next to him. There, the teens could dance to the music Williams was playing. Once in a while, Kae would wander next door and talk with the kids. It was one of these times he met a quintet. They were the Dreamers. Kae auditioned them and liked what he heard.
A couple months later, Kae took them to Reco Art Studios and recorded two sides. After they were done, they found out that their was another group called "The Dreamers." Baritone singer Jimmy McCalister saw a box of candy on a secretary's desk, shaped like a heart. Since the sides featured lead singer Arthur Thompson, the name "Arthur Thompson and the Hearts" was suggested. The group and Kae started playing with names when someone said that Arthur had two middle names, Lee & Andrew. Thus, Lee Andrews and the Hearts were born.
Williams took the sides to Eddie and Bobby Heller who owned a nightclub in North Philly. Eddie also owned Rainbow Records. Kae worked out a deal and the Hearts released three releases on Rainbow, but without a lot of success. Williams decided to break the affiliation with Heller and for awhile, The Hearts only performed in area clubs, but they got a lot of exposure. Williams' contract with the group was finally declared null and void and the groups signed as minors, and they were not of legal age.
In 1956, another gospel-oriented group, "The Gospel Tornadoes," came into being. Eventually, the group started performing secular selections and the name didn't seem to fit. They kept "The Gospel Tornadoes" on Sundays and during the rest of the week, they became "The Thunderbirds." In 1957, Kae Williams (then at WDAS Radio) signed the group to his own small label, Junior Records. Kae had them record two sides.
The ballad was to be the A-side (or plug side). It was entitled, "I'm Lonely." A jump number was the usual for the flip side. It was almost considered to be a throwaway song. It was called "Get a Job" and would become a national number one hit and one of the classics of early R&B and Doo-Wop. The next year, 1958, the rights to the material were sold to Ember Records, a division of Herald.
The Rays had a hit record called "Silhouette." Williams thought that the group should be re-titled "The Silhouettes." One reason was that Kae thought it simply sounded better and the second one was that maybe some of the disc jockeys would confuse it with the Rays and think it was their follow up recording. Whatever the reason, it worked. The song is best known for the Williams arrangement of the background vocalizing of "Sha-Na-Na-Na-Na-Na-Na." The Rock & Roll revival group, Sha Na Na based their group's name on this phrase.
Kae also was responsible for another Philadelphia based group, The Sensations featuring Yvonne Baker, whose song "Let Me In," reached the second spot on the R & B charts in 1962. Other Philadelphia artists whose success was related to Kae Williams are Solomon Burke, Moses Davis, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Don Gardner and Doc Bagby.
While Kae Williams had a hand in early R&B and Doo-Wop, his main love was "The Blues." In fact, most of his radio broadcasts featured little else. Darryl Williams, Kae's son, said. "If there is a musical genre that Philadelphia has, which Kae was solely responsible for promoting, it is the Blues. In fact he was dubbed "Daddy of the Blues." When blues was kind of a stepchild on the music scene in Philly back in the late 50's, Kae specialized in playing nothing but the blues. Only Kae Williams was giving shows featuring the likes of B.B. King, Little Richard, Ike Turner's Revue and Bobby Blue Bland. Kae whose good natured, gruff voice admonished, "Get out of that bed and get that bread."
Kae was known for his charitable contributions and personal appearances for worthy causes. He was a member of the Board of Directors of The National Association of Television and Radio Announcers and President (and later Chairman) of the Strawberry Mansion Civic Association. He was on the board at the Columbia Avenue branch of the YMCA. At the University of Pennsylvania, he served of the board at the Wharton School of Business. He was also on the board of the Tioga - Quaker City Golf Club and was on the Strawberry Mansion Junior High Advisory Board.
He was also chairman and president of the local federally funded "Model Cities" program. About this, Williams said, "As chairman of Model Cities Area No. 9, it was my duty to coordinate all the efforts of civic and community groups in my area totaling approximately 60,000 residents, meeting with redevelopment authorities to determine dislocation and relocation of residents, service buildings, needs in the community, fighting crime in neighborhoods, (and) assisting the aged and youth in establishing programs beneficial to the area residents."
In 1957, Kae received an award from BMI. It was for the record, "Get a Job" for selling one million copies. In 1964, Kae had a local television show which lasted for one year. In 1978, he received the Mary Dee Award for outstanding community service. It was the first time the honor was ever presented. In 1989, Kae, Jr. accepted on behalf of his dad, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Philadelphia Music Foundation.
During his life, Williams loved dance. He had won several awards for tap and ballroom dancing. He appeared with Count Basie, Lionel Hampton and Erskine Hawkins. Williams mentioned one time, "I studied music and dramatics at Al Berkman's School of Dramatic Arts, Philadelphia. I have also produced weekly variety shows at the Liberty and Uptown Theaters in North Philadelphia."
If there is a pioneer of the Blues as far as radio is concerned, it is Philadelphia's own , Daddy Kae (Loudmouth) Williams." He passed away on December 23, 1987.
Known Time Periods & Stations
Saturday, July 16, 1960 - WDAS - 6 am to 10 am
7 am to 7:30 was the "Ebony Hall of Fame"
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Written and researched by Broadcast Pioneers member Gerry Wilkinson
Photo originally donated by Darryl Williams, Kae's son
© 2006, All Rights Reserved
The e-mail address of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia is firstname.lastname@example.org