Williams Avenue, 1953


Williams Avenue 1953

By Lynn Darroch

When I imagine Williams Avenue in the ‘50s, I hear the stories of Baby James ….

… stories about Little Sonny, his inspiration, who sang like Ray Charles and jumped on the piano in the middle of a note.

”That blew my mind,” says James. “When I saw those girls pulling on him up and down Williams, I said, ‘That’s what I want to be.’”

… I hear his stories about playing the Desert Room for shake dancers and a midget named Miss Dynamite …

… stories about a street-wise guy called Sweet-Smellin’ Eddie, who named James “Sweet Baby.”

“A seaman, a guy who really dressed,” says James. “He’d walk down the street, turn, and there’d be 30 women smelling where he’d been. Eddie says to me, ‘Someone got to carry this name on, so I’m appointing you ‘Sweet Baby’.’”


James carried the name and the stories of the Avenue, one of few left now from that heroic age.

… stories of hanging with a bunch of street dudes one day hired to play ball by a guy split from the Chicago Hottentots.

“We’d travel to these little towns, seven of us in the car singing; that’s how I learned,” says James.

Back on the Avenue, his big hit “The Body,” banned from radio, got him “15 minutes of fame,” he says, remembering those days on the Avenue … when he was becoming Sweet Baby James …




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