City Slang: Little Willie John reading at Book Beat

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Between 1955 and ’61, Little Willie John had 17 songs in the charts. The R&B singer had moved to Detroit from Arkansas when he was four and then, after singing in a gospel group with some of siblings, secured himself a contract with King Records in ’55.

His better-known tunes include “All Around the World”, “Need Your Love So Bad” and “Fever”. However, all of the joy was to be short-lived. Known for his love for the bottle, he was arrested for manslaughter in ’66. He died from a suspected heart attack in ’68 while incarcerated.

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Local writer Susan Whitall has written a book, Fever: Little Willie John, detailing this unique character from Detroit’s turbulent musical past. Motown legend Stevie Wonder has written the foreword.

On Tuesday evening, Whitall plus John’s two sons, Kevin and Keith John, will be at the Book Beat book store at 26010 Greenfield, Oak Park between 7-8 p.m. for a reading, signing and live music. It should be a great opportunity to learn firsthand about this of-forgotten gem.


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