Philly Sound Pioneer Billy Paul Dies at 80, Was Famous for ‘Me and Mrs. Jones’

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Legacy Recordings
Legacy Recordings

Billy Paul, known for his 1972 soul song, “Me and Mrs. Jones” died this past weekend.

A statement on his official website says that his cause of death is related to a “serious medical condition.” It continues, “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 pioneered today’s R&B music. Billy will be truly missed. Please share you thought [sic], messages and stories of Billy as we remember this legendary artist, family member and friend.”

The singer’s co-manager, Beverly Gay, told the Associated Press Paul died at his home in Blackwood, New Jersey on April 24. She added Paul was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and tells NBC10 he was hospitalized a week ago at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. Gay tells the news station Paul’s family will release details about funeral arrangements in a statement soon.

Producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff – who worked with the singer early on – released a statement on his death Sunday night.

“We are very saddened to learn of the sudden death of our good friend and Philadelphia International Records recording artist Billy Paul. From the time we saw Billy performing live, and then signing him to our PIR/TSOP label, we immediately realized that we had discovered and launched one the most unique voices in the music industry. Billy’s voice combined both Jazz, R&B and Soul vocals, making him one the great artists to come out of Philly and to be celebrated worldwide. Our proudest moment with Billy was the recording of the salacious smash ‘Me and Mrs. Jones.’ In our view, it is one of the greatest love songs ever recorded. Billy was one of the first artists to help launch the PIR/TSOP brand, and he will forever have a special place in music history.”

“We send our very sincere and personal condolences to his wife Blanche and the rest of his family. Billy Paul will truly be missed.”

According to his website, Paul was born Paul Williams on December 1, 1935. He is known for helping to usher in the “Philadelphia soul” sound created by producers Gamble, Huff and Thom Bell. Paul changed his name so that he wouldn’t be confused with other artists like Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams, a sax player and songwriter.

Arguably, Paul’s biggest hit is “Me and Mrs. Jones.”  Released from his equally commercially successful album “360 Degrees of Billy Paul” in 1972, it went on to reach number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for three weeks at the end of the year. “Jones” stayed on the chart for 16 weeks and earned Paul a Grammy for best R&B vocal performance, male according to Billboard. His website says the single sold two million copies, reaching platinum status.

The song also led the North Philadelphia native to international fame. “Jones” launched Paul onto the world charts, like the United Kingdom’s Top 20 of the UK Singles Chart. In 1973, “Me and Mrs. Jones” reached number 12.

After the mainstream success of his track showcasing the “Philly sound,” Paul released the controversial single, “Am I Black Enough For You.” The follow-up served as a Black Power political message, and Paul was initially against releasing it as a single. He looked back on it with fondness decades later, however, calling it an “all-time great record.”

“Well you know… for a long time, I was angry about it, I had a bit of a letdown,” said Paul on his website. “Now the song is ahead of its time. I feel as though I let the song down when I went into my darkness. I feel like I abandoned the song. And I’m still going to get to the bottom of ‘Am I Black Enough.’ “

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