by Michael P. Coleman
When Lady Sings The Blues hit theaters in 1972, stage and television actor Billy Dee Williams co-starred with Diana Ross, who shocked critics by successfully transitioning from music superstardom to the silver screen. But who knew that almost ten years before that film’s debut, Williams made an attempt at singing?
Hot off of a successful Broadway run, the then 23-year-old actor was talked into recording an album of stage standards called Let‘s Misbehave. The long-forgotten album has been out of print for decades, but has just been rereleased. It gives Williams’ fans a long-unheard glimpse of the legend when he was still finding his way.
When I spoke with Williams before Let‘s Misbehave‘s rerelease last fall, he told me that the album’s first track was an obvious song for him to record.
“‘A Taste Of Honey’ had been written for me, for the stage,” Williams said. “During that period, a jazz label approached me about recording an album, and although I wasn’t really a singer, I went for it.”
I told Williams that I remembered a fun duet he had done with Ross on her 1987 ABC special Red Hot Rhythm & Blues, “Baby, You’ve Got What It Takes”, and his 1983 project with Rick James, “Tell Me (What You Want)”, so I couldn’t wait to hear his vocals on a whole album.
“Yes, you can,” he chuckled. “It was a terrible album! Some of it was OK, but most of it was bad. I wasn’t really experienced with that stuff, but they were training me to be a chic nightclub singer, a chanteur. Some of it was not too bad, but a lot of it was not too great!’
Speaking with Williams again after Let’s Misbehave‘s rerelease, he was a little easier on himself.
“I really don’t know what to think about it, to tell you the truth,” Williams shared by phone. “It was a brand new kind of adventure for me. It was an experiment. At this point, it’s a source of amusement for me.”
After listening to Let‘s Misbehave, I’d like to say that Williams was too hard on himself, but my mama taught me not to argue with a legend. The album is far from a masterpiece. However, some of it is surprisingly pretty good, and it’s worth mentioning that the entire album was recorded in a single day. Being a fan of Williams’ screen work, from LSTB to Mahogany to the Star Wars films, it offers an enjoyable listen, and it’s fun to hear the upper range of the actor’s famous baritone. I told Williams that listening to the album led me to a healthy conclusion for someone who grew up in Williams’ shadow with the girls: not EVERYTHING Billy Dee Williams did was perfect.
“Well, I don’t know what to say about that,” Williams laughed. “It’s a piece of history – that’s the best way to look at it.”
Williams believes that he may have had a career in music had he devoted more time to honing his chops.
“I should have actually considered [singing professionally], but I had such respect for singers that I ultimately decided to go in a different direction,” he shared. “My mom studied opera for years. She had a beautiful voice. I studied some singing, but I never really devoted the time to it. I think if I had devoted the time, it could have developed into something pretty interesting.”
I opined that Let‘s Misbehave is something pretty interesting as it stands. That said, I was surprised to hear that Williams thought he could have made a go at singing. I asked him whether another album might be in his future.
“Well, I’ve been thinking about doing that, actually,” Williams said. “I’ve started working with somebody, and we’re talking about putting together a kind of romantic type of album.”
While I strongly believe that Frank Sinatra’s position is secure, I walked away from my conversation with Williams with admiration for a legend who has such an honest, humble view of a piece of his work. I also have to give it up for someone who steps out of the box and tries something new, even if the result isn’t perfect. Pick up a copy of Let‘s Misbehave if you’re a die hard Williams fan, if you want to own a piece of entertainment history, or if you want a reminder than even legends stumble sometimes.
“Let‘s Misbehave” by Billy Dee Williams is available at Amazon.
Michael P Coleman is only a slightly better singer than Billy Dee Williams. He is, however, a brilliant freelance writer who‘s based in Sacramento, California. Connect with him at michaelpcoleman.com, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him: @ColemanMichaelP.
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