William Edgar John is best known for his classic 1956 No. 1 R&B hit “Fever,” but his recording career had begun as the featured vocalist on the Paul Williams Orchestra’s 1955 tune, “Betty Ann (Ring-A-Ling).”
John was born in Cullendale, Arkansas, to Lillie and Mertis John, he was one of ten children. While still a young boy, his family moved to Detroit, Michigan, so that his father could find factory work.
John went on to record numerous hit songs. He had a string of R&B hits, including “Need Your Love So Bad” written by his older brother Mertis. One of his biggest recordings was in 1956, “Fever.”
During the late 1940s, Willie along with his oldest siblings formed a gospel singing group. Willie also performed solo talent shows, which caught the attention of Johnny Otis and, later, the 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” for his short stature.
Despite John having a successful singing career, he dealt with controlling his temper and consumption of alcohol. He was eventually dropped by his record company in 1963.
His arrest for homicide by the Seattle Police Department early Sunday on October 17, 1964, some hours after the second show, makes that gig among his last performances. John was charged with manslaughter in a fatal stabbing, he appealed the conviction and was released while the case was reconsidered. He tried during this time to make a comeback with his music.
John died in 1968 at Washington State Penitentiary. He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hame of Fame in 1996.