By Mike Barnes
Bill Henderson, a well-respected jazz vocalist and actor, died Sunday of natural causes in Los Angeles, according to Lynne Robin Green, president of LWBH Music Publishers. He was 90.
A native of Chicago, Henderson sang with the Ramsey Lewis Trio, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Quincy Jones, the Charlie Haden Quintet and many others. His 1963 album, Bill Henderson With the Oscar Peterson Trio, is considered a classic in the jazz vernacular.
Henderson was a fixture on the Playboy circuit in the 1970s and appeared often at many festivals, including Playboy Jazz at the Hollywood Bowl, Monterey Jazz and the Litchfield Jazz Festival in Connecticut. Later, he performed at The Kennedy Center and in New York at the Hotel Algonquin’s Oak Room and at Lincoln Center.
“Henderson’s phrasing is virtually his own copyright,” music journalist Leonard Feather once said. “He tends to space certain words as if the syllables were separated by commas, even semicolons, yet everything winds up as a perfectly constructed sentence.”
At the suggestion of his friend Bill Cosby, Henderson pursued an acting career and in 1967 relocated to Hollywood.
He appeared in such films as The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension(1984), Clue (1985) — as the cop who is killed by a lead pipe in the library — City Slickers (1991),White Men Can't Jump (1992), Maverick (1994), Lethal Weapon 4 (1998) and Smiling Fish & Goat on Fire (1999) and on television in ER, Hill Street Blues, Happy Days, Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons,Good Times, MacGyver, Benson, NYPD Blue and My Name Is Earl.
Henderson made his show business debut as a singer and dancer at age 4. A stint in the Army led to him working with crooner Vic Damone, and in 1956, Henderson made his way to New York.
A year later, Horace Silver hired him to record a vocal version of the popular instrumental song “Senor Blues” for Blue Note Records. It was a jukebox hit and remains one of the biggest-selling singles in the label’s history.
Between 1958-61, Henderson recorded for the Vee-Jay label and recorded his first album, Bill Henderson Sings. Most recently, he released a self-produced live album, Beautiful Memory, co-produced by Green.
Survivors include his daughter Mariko, granddaughter Mya, son-in-law Marc, nephew Finis and niece Henreene.