February 22, 1908 – April 26, 2004
Claude "Fiddler" Williams was born on February 22, 1908 in Muskogee, Oklahoma and by the age of ten had learned to play guitar, mandolin, banjo, and cello. He became interested in the violin after attending a concert by the great Joe Venuti and by 1927 he was a featured musician in the competitive world of Kansas City Jazz. He worked in Andy Kirk's Clouds of Joy with Mary Lou Williams and became Count Basie's first guitarist. He also led jam sessions with greats like Stuff Smith, Ben Webster and Lester Young while being an integral part of the Kansas City sound/scene of the late 20's and 1930's.
In the 1940's and 1950's Claude was associated with artists like Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Hank Jones, and fellow Oklahoma Jazz Hall Inductee Jay McShann with whom he began to record and become more widely known for his violin work. He also began using amplification for his violin in 1950 and spent several years with Roy Milton's Blues Band. By the 1980's he was performing exclusively on violin and participating in many jazz festivals including Newport in New York and Monterey. In 1989 he was in the very first class of inductees to the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame and beginning his most active decade of teaching, performing, recording and general recognition. In the 1990's he would play Carnegie Hall twice, Lincoln Center once, be recognized by the Smithsonian, tour Europe, Australia, and the U.S., record with his own band to critical acclaim, and perform at the White House for President Clinton. He also developed a strong folk following and did several successful folk violin tours. Claude passed away in 2004 at the age of 96.