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Willette, Baby Face  

Gary W. Kennedy

[Roosevelt James]

(b New Orleans or Little Rock, AR, Sept 11, 1933). American organist. He was probably born in New Orleans and grew up in Little Rock, but a conclusive source of information concerning this has yet to be found. His father was a minister of a church in Little Rock and his mother was a missionary and pianist. Willette’s nickname, Baby Face, came from his youthful appearance and small physical stature. He studied piano from 1938 and in his youth played organ in his father’s church. From the early 1950s he worked as a pianist and organist in gospel and rhythm-and-blues groups, touring with, among others, Joe Houston, King Kolax, and Johnny Otis. At some point during these years he made Chicago his home, and while there came to be influenced by local gospel organists; he was also attracted by the recordings of Charlie Parker.

Willette recorded on both piano and organ in a rhythm-and-blues style in ...