From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Williams, Stanley Rudolph "Fess"

(born: April 10, 1894  -  died: December 17, 1975) 

Stanley R. "Fess" Williams, born in Danville, KY, was a bandleader who played the clarinet, alto saxophone, and violin. In 1914, he moved to Cincinnati, OH after graduating from Tuskegee Institute, returning to Kentucky in 1915 where he taught school in Winchester [source: World War I Draft Regisration Card, 1917-18].

Williams and his family later moved to Chicago, IL, where he led bands, before settling in New York City in 1924, where he formed the Royal Flush Orchestra in 1925. The band played at the Savoy Ballroom from 1926-1928 and had a number of recordings featuring  musicians such as pianist Henry "Hank" Duncan from Bowling Green, KY. One of the group's most memorable and best selling recordings was Hot Town.

Fess Williams was the uncle, by marriage, of  Charles Mingus; his wife, Louise Phillips Williams, was Mingus's maternal aunt.

Williams died in Jamaica, NY, on December 17, 1975 [source: U.S. Social Security Death Index].

 For more see Fess Williams and his Royal Flush Orchestra, at The Red Hot Jazz Archive; and "Fess Williams" in the Oxford Music Online Database.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION from Mike Dennis with the Danville/Boyle County African-American Historical Society:

He [Stanley Rudolph "Fess" Williams] says in his biography (Record Research) that his father died when he was 5 (born 1894) and his mother took him to Cincinnati for more opportunities. But he was living in Danville in 1900 with his grandmother. His mother, Susen [sic] Durham, remarried to William T Givens, but he is not listed in the 1910 Census where Susen says she is a widow. "Fess" however, says her decision to send him to Tuskegee at age 15 caused the marriage to break up as Givens opposed the move.

"Fess" came back to Cincinnati in late summer 1914. He taught at Winchester, where his students nicknamed him "Fess", a shortening of "Professor".  He married Louise Phillips (whom he had met at Tuskegee) in Winchester 24 Dec 1915, and his mother died a happy mother in January 1916.

He says, "With the exception of W. C. Handy, [my band] rose to be the best known band throughout the states of Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Indiana, Virginia, West Virginia and South Carolina."

He went to Chicago in March 1923, and in New York in early 1924, first playing in a broadcast from radio station WGY in Schenectady, NY.

SOURCE: The Fess Williams Story, as told to Harrison Smith, Record Research, Vol 3 No 3 (October-November 1957): 3, 4, 5, 6.

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Boyle County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Clark County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

Read about Danville, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Winchester, Kentucky in Wikipedia.


Cited in this Entry

NKAA Source: Record research (periodical)

Related Entries Citing this Entry

NKAA Entry:  Duncan, Henry J. "Hank"
NKAA Entry:  Thomas, John L.
NKAA Entry:  African American Schools in Clark County, KY
NKAA Entry:  Kentucky African American Musicians in Illinois (Chicago)

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Williams, Stanley Rudolph "Fess",” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed July 27, 2021,

Last modified: 2021-04-03 15:20:07