Final Note: Bill Henderson

3/19/1926 – 4/3/2016

Bill Henderson, jazz vocalist and actor, has died of natural causes in Los Angeles, California.

Born in Chicago in 1926, William Randall Henderson made his show business debut as a singer and dancer at age 4. His father taught him the value of singing softly. He spent his teens and twenties fluctuating between school, day jobs, and trying to make it as a singer. A stint I the army provided him an opportunity to work with Vic Damone, and in 1956 Henderson made his way to New York. The jazz community took notice and his break came the following year when he recorded “Señor Blues” for Blue Note Records. A jukebox hit, the recording stands as one of the biggest selling jingles in the label’s history.

henderson lpBetween 1958 and 1961, he recorded for the Vee-Jay label and recorded his first album, “Bill Henderson Sings” in 1959. Of the many accolades said about him over the years included: Bill Henderson “sounds undeniably modern, yet firmly rooted in the blues and church,” and “He comes as close as anyone as a vocal equivalent of Miles Davis.” He was brave, yet soothing. His voice was masculine, yet vulnerable. He sang about heartbreak, but “never let emotion get in the way of precision.” Among many greats, Henderson sang with the Ramsey Lewis Trio, Dizzie Gillespie, Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Quincy Jones. His 1963 recording “Bill Henderson With the Oscar Peterson Trio” remains a classic in the jazz vernacular. He was a fixture on the Playboy circuit in the 1970s and appeared often at many jazz festivals, including Playboy Jazz at the Hollywood Bowl, Monterey Jazz, and the Litchfield Jazz Festival.

“Henderson’s phrasing is virtually his own copyright,” Leonard Feather observed. “He tends to space certain words as if the syllables were separated by commas, even semicolons; yet everything winds up as a perfectly constructed sentence.” Henderson’s voice was deliberate and thoughtful, feeling all the way through, but still natural and smooth.

Although known mostly for his music, Henderson also ventured into acting. His stage credits include film and television projects such as “City Slickers,” “Maverick,” “Lethal Weapon 4,” “Buckaroo Bonzai,” “White Men Can’t Jump,” “Smiling Fish & Goat on Fire,” “ER,” “Hill Street Blues,” “The Twilight Zone,” “Happy Days,” “Sanford and Son,” “The Jeffersons,” “Good Times,” “MacGyver,” “Benson,” “NYPD Blue,” and “My Name is Earl.”

Henderson loved show business and he loved performing, which parlayed into supporting his greatest love: his daughter, Mariko, whom he raised as a single father. He was a virtuoso as “Popi” and jazz singer

bill hendersonAs Henderson aged he resumed singing and toured in his 80s, appearing at the Kennedy Center, the Hotel Algonquin’s famed Oak Room, and at Lincoln Center. During this period, he released a self-produced CD entitled “Beautiful Memory,” co-produced by Mariko Henderson and Lynne Robin Green.

Known fondly as “Uncle Bill” to many, he died of natural causes two weeks after his 90th birthday on March 19, 2016. He is survived by his granddaughter Mya, his son-in-law Marc, his nephew Finis Henderson III, his niece Henreene Hyler, and died with his daughter Mariko at his bedside, dying as he lived, with dignity and respect.