Otis Williams (born June 2, 1936, Cincinnati, Ohio), attended Withrow High School in Cincinnati, and in 1952 joined an existing singing group in the school when one of its members was sick. The other original members were Bob Smith (tenor) (later replaced by Donald Peak), Rolland Bradley (tenor), Joe Penn (baritone/tenor), and Richard Parker (bass).
The group, who Williams named The Charms, appeared in a high school show in early 1953, and were drawn to the attention of Syd Nathan of King Records. Nathan only wanted to sign Williams, but Williams insisted on taking the rest of the group along. They signed to a subsidiary label, Rockin’ Records, based in Florida and owned by Henry Stone (later of TK Records), Williams giving up a sports career to pursue singing instead.
The Charms first record in June 1953, “Heaven Only Knows”, was not a hit, and after a couple more releases they moved to another King subsidiary label, De Luxe Records, also run by Stone. They recorded several more times before, in 1954, “Hearts of Stone” gave them their first and biggest hit, reaching #1 on the R&Bcharts for nine weeks at the end of the year. It sold over one million copies, their first recording to do so, and was awarded a gold disc. It also reached #15 on the pop charts, with a cover version by the Fontane Sisters reaching #1.
The group had further R&B chart success with “Ling, Ting, Tong” and “Two Hearts”, and they toured with The Clovers, Big Joe Turner and others. However, in late 1955, Stone persuaded the other members of the group that they could succeed without Williams, and they left to join Stone’s new Chart label. After a court battle, Williams continued recording for DeLuxe, credited as Otis Williams and His Charms, and had another big hit in 1956 with “Ivory Tower” (#5 R&B, #11 pop).
Williams continued to record for DeLuxe in the late 1950s, but with less success. He also co-produced and arrangedHank Ballard‘s original version of “The Twist“, and helped arrange Little Willie John‘s “Fever“. Peak, Bradley, Penn, and Parker, the Chart Records Charms, had their last recordings released in 1956. These recordings were, however, re-releases of older recordings that featured Otis Williams. The group made no other recordings.
Williams was drafted in 1960, and recorded sporadically as his army leave permitted. This also marked the breakup of his Charms. He was discharged in 1962 and recorded solo for another year, before retiring in 1963. He returned in 1965, recordingsoul music for the Okehlabel. He took a further break, becoming a barber, and later relocated to Nashville, Tennessee, where he recorded a country music album, Otis Williams and the Midnight Cowboys, produced by Pete Drake and released in 1971.
In the 1990s Williams returned to group harmony singing, touring internationally with a new Charms group, and, in 2001, being inducted to the United in Group Harmony Association Hall of Fame.
Williams performed in Cincinnati with The Coda Band on November 24, 2007.