You are here

Little Willie John

Born: 
11/15/1937
City: 
Region: 
Country: 
Died: 
05/26/1968
Cause of Death: 
Years Active: 
1955-1968
Instruments: 

William Edward John, better known by his stage name Little Willie John, was born in Cullendale, but moved with his family to Detroit when he was four so that his father could pursue factory work. In the late 1940s, the eldest children, including Willie, formed a gospel singing group, and Willie also performed in talent shows, which brought him to the notice of Johnny Otis and, later, musician and producer Henry Glover. After seeing him sing with the Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams orchestra, Glover signed him to a recording contract with King Records in 1955. He was nicknamed "Little Willie" John for his short stature.

Willie John was known for his short temper and propensity to abuse alcohol, and was dropped by his record company in 1963. In 1966, he was convicted of manslaughter and sent to Washington State Penitentiary for a fatal knifing incident following a show in Seattle. Little Willie John died in 1968 at Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, Washington. Despite counter claims, the official cause of death was listed in his death certificate as a heart attack.

His interment was in Michigan's Detroit Memorial Park East.