J. Mayo “Ink” Williams changed the future of music one signature at a time
When you start to look at history you will find some interesting things. This is especially true for African American history. The story of African Americans, for example, does not start with slavery. Those of African descent were present on the American continent long before colonization. Although this is a part of history, it’s not common knowledge.
When you look at the history of African American musicians you will find they had a very influential presence in music. Black entertainers were making their mark in show business beyond the start of the 19th century. J. Mayo “Ink” Williams is one these entertainers who left a significant mark on history. He earned his name from the amount of talented African American artists he got to ink their names on recording contracts.
Williams was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, in September of 1894. His father was murdered when he was seven years old, so they returned to his mother’s hometown of Monmouth, Illinois. This is where he would grow up. Being an outstanding college athlete prepared him for professional football. In the 1920s, he played with the Hammond (Ind.) Pros, becoming one of three black athletes to play in the National Football League during its first year.
He went on to play professional football for 6 years, but underneath it all, he had a burning desire to pursue a music career. In 1924, he joined Paramount Records which was one of the first companies to produce “Race Records”. His role as a talent scout and supervisor of recording sessions in the Chicago area made him the most successful blues producer of his era.
J. Mayo Williams discovered several talented musicians before leaving Paramount in 1927 to start his own record company. The label mainly focused on blues, jazz, and gospel releases. His company failed after around seven months of business, but not before producing 55 records. Shortly after this, he found work with a new record label, but due to the Wall Street crash of 1929, he was forced to find work elsewhere.
Breaking through and breaking records
Falling back on something he knew well, he returned to football as a coach for Morehouse College in Atlanta. In 1934, J. was hired as head of the “Race Records” department at Decca, where he recorded many legendary artists. Not only was he a successful producer, but he managed some of the careers of the artists he recorded as well. He even went as far as setting up the Chicago Music Publishing Company (CMPC) as the publisher for all the titles he recorded.
After leaving Decca in 1945, J. Mayo Williams did freelance work and ran several small, independent labels. He continued to work independently throughout the 1970s. He died in 1980 in a Chicago nursing home as plans were being initiated to conduct interviews for his life story. Unfortunately, the interviews never occurred.
J. Mayo “Ink” Williams used his passion, skills, and connections to change the lives of African American musicians. As we continue to advance and make history we must hold on to these stories from the past. The past outlined our present, and the future is currently in our hands.
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