The City of Brotherly Love will dim its lights for soul singer Billy Paul tonight, as the “Me and Mrs. Jones” performer reportedly died at the age of 81. According to his manager, Paul, who was born under the name Paul Williams, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was hospitalized last week at Temple University. News of his passing was spread through Twitter via his step-granddaughter and comedian Sinbad. He was said to have passed away Sunday at his home in Blackwood, New Jersey.
The North Philadelphia crooner had other hits such as “Am I Black Enough For You,” “War of the Gods” and our own Questlove has equated Paul to Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. “[Billy Paul was] one of the criminally unmentioned proprietors of socially conscious post-revolution ’60s civil rights music,” Questo said in Michael Azerrad‘s 2010 documentary on Billy Paul. With a distinctive and gravely voice, Paul is among the few artists linked to Philadelphia’s richly flavorful sound crafted by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff.
“Me and Mrs. Jones” was a no. 1 hit for Billy Paul and remained that way for the last three weeks of 1972, eventually winning Paul a Grammy. “I always liked Nat King Cole, [but] I always wanted to go my own way. I always favored other singers like Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald — I loved Ella Fitzgerald,” Paul said to Billboard in 2003. “I wanted to sing silky, like butter — mellow. I wanted to sing mellow you know what I mean,” Paul said, recalling his earlier influences. Most recently, Billy Paul received birthday wishes for his 80th born day from President Barack Obama.
Below, relive the magic of Billy Paul, by watching this original video of “Me and Mrs. Jones.”