RIP The Mayor Of Beale Street

The Core Belief

In the early summer of 1991, I scored tickets to hear Miles Davis play in New York.  I walked by the Village Vanguard and the Bottom Line wishing I could hear the great trumpeter play in an intimate setting but what the hell, be it Carnegie Hall, the (then) Felt Forum or some hole in the wall on Houston and Ludlow I was going to see Miles Fucking Davis play.  I was hoping he would pace and turn on the audience and pull one of his brilliant solos out of the ether.

Davis canceled the show a couple of weeks before the anointed date sighting health issues.  Two or so months later, on September 28, 1991, Miles Davis died from pneumonia and respritory failure brought on by a stroke.  I cursed my bad luck.  How many times had I passed up the opportunity to see Miles play?  4,5?  Right there and then I made a list of musicians I wanted to see before they passed on.

Thus far, I’ve done a lousy job of seeing those acts.  Bo Diddley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, the Ramones have all thrown off this mortal coil since I made my list.  I scour the papers and Internet weekly to make sure I catch Hubert Sumlin before he dies.

However, two weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to hear someone play whose importance as a musician was lost on me but in years to come I can look back and say, yes, I saw that man play.  His name was Rudy Williams.  He was known as the Mayor of Beale Street.

Williams was sitting outside a Beale Street BBQ joint called The Pig, which has some of the best ribs I’ve ever had, playing his trumpet.  Being a New Yorker, I’m leery of street musicians hanging out with their tip buckets so close to where I’m eating.  The Village hustle was to play horribly out of tune in order to be paid to go away.  Williams, however, wasn’t intrusive to those who wanted to eat.  But if you cared enough to listen you heard music played by a master.  Rudy Williams was my initiation to just how good the music I heard over the next 24 hours was.

Williams, a Memphis native, has been turning people onto Beale Street and the Memphis music scene for decades.  He went missing May 21, 2011, just two days after I heard him play outside the Pig’s large front window.

(From The Tri-State Defender)

Talk to just about anyone who has visited Beale Street and they have encountered the legendary trumpeter, Rudolph “Rudy” Williams, widely known as the “mayor of Beale Street.”

Late Wednesday, the Memphis Police Department officially identified a badly decomposed body found late Tuesday night in the woods behind the Value Place Motel at 1218 Winchester as the remains of Williams, who was reported missing over ten days ago by his daughter, Meagan. Williams wife, Marva, had said her husband, 70, went missing on May 21 after having last been seen walking West on Winchester near his home in Whitehaven about 9 p.m. A preliminary report by the Shelby County Medical Examiner’s office did not indicate any signs of foul play.

Williams was the iconic and unofficial spokesperson for Beale Street and Memphis music said his longtime friend and Booker T. Washington High School alum and school band member, Alfred Brown, D.D.S.

“Rudolph’s special gift to the city and to people who loved great music was his trumpet – that was rich, powerful and entertaining.”

Brown, a jazz keyboardist who also “plays music and makes albums” online at Sounds of Alfred, spoke proudly of the memories and accomplishments of a group of his high school friends, including Williams, whom he affectionately calls Rudolph.

In addition to Williams, the four other 1960 BTW grads and band members are six-time Grammy winner, Maurice White of Earth Wind and Fire; 11-time Grammy winner, Booker T. Jones of Booker T & The MG’s; Andrew Love of the Memphis Horns, who has performed on 49 Number One records, 112 Top Ten records, 83 Gold & Platinum records, plus a 15 time Grammy winner; and bass player Melvin Shaw. All “felt the BTW spirit as true Washingtonians…they lead and others follow,” Brown said of his BTW combo-band members.

“We were young people who had a little talent and went on to prove it,” he said. “These luminaries were my friends, band members and classmates. They were not famous to us; they just used their gifts to make music.”

Williams’ wife, Marva, is also a BTW graduate. They have been together since high school, said Brown.

Funeral arrangements for Williams still were pending at the Tri-State Defender’s press deadline, and none of his family members had been reached for comments.

Carson Lamm of River City Management Group and the Beale Street Merchants Association said he would be the point of contact for an upcoming New Orleans style processional in honor of “Rudy…our Ambassador for Beale and Memphis music.”

Lamm said, “We will work with the family and wait on them for instructions, as to ease the pain and suffering they are currently experiencing” before making any announcements on date and time of the Beale Street processional.”

Then he noted a bit of irony.

“In the past, Rudy has always been the one leading the processional and now we have to plan one for him.”

Late Wednesday evening, Lamm said calls were coming in from all over the country from people wanting to know how they can help to honor the life and legacy of Williams.

Brown said Williams came up with the idea to promote himself as the “mayor of Beale Street” because he wanted the world to know the great trumpeter and “Father of the Blues,” W.C. Handy.

“Rudy injected himself in that picture so others could see what trumpet music could be like,” said Brown.

“He was music transcended. He is truly the icon of Beale Street and Memphis music. All musicians that knew him respected him highly, and he gave tourists, and all who would listen, the history of music and Memphis sounds.”

Inquiries about the Beale Street memorial processional honoring Williams can be directed to Carson Lamm at 901-525-3891, ext. 311, or email

You never know just who is playing what on places like Beale Street.  I’m glad I dropped my New York attitude long enough to listen.

(Hat tip: Patty Carter.)




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