Charles Melvin "Cootie" Williams (July 10, 1911 – September 15, 1985) was an American jazz, jump blues, and rhythm and blues trumpeter.
Born in Mobile, Alabama, United States, Williams began his professional career with the Young Family band, which included saxophonist Lester Young, when he was 14 years old. According to Williams he acquired his nickname as a boy when his father took him to a band concert. When it was over his father asked him what he'd heard and the lad replied "Cootie, cootie, cootie".
In 1928, he made his first recordings with pianist James P. Johnson in New York, where he also worked briefly in the bands of Chick Webb and Fletcher Henderson. He rose to prominence as a member of Duke Ellington's orchestra, with which he first performed from 1929 to 1940. He also recorded his own sessions during this time, both freelance and with other Ellington sidemen. Williams was renowned for his "jungle" style trumpet playing (in the manner of Ellington's earlier trumpeter Bubber Miley and trombonist Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton) and for his use of the plunger mute. He also sang occasionally, a notable example being in the Ellington piece, "Echoes of the Jungle".
In 1940 he joined Benny Goodman's orchestra, a highly publicized move that caused quite a stir at the time (commemorated by Raymond Scott with the song "When Cootie Left the Duke"), then in 1941 formed his own orchestra, in which over the years he employed Charlie Parker, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Bud Powell, Eddie Vinson, and other young players.
Williams died in New York on September 15, 1985, at age 74. He is interred in Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York City.
Browse our unique collection of Cootie Williams photos and prints below