Baby Face Willette

Roosevelt "Baby Face" Willette (September 11, 1933 – April 1, 1971) was a hard bop and soul-jazz musician who played the Hammond organ. It is unclear whether he was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, or New Orleans, Louisiana [1]

Life and careerEdit

His mother was a missionary who played the piano in the church where his father was a minister. As a result, his musical roots were in gospel and Willette became involved in music by playing the piano for various gospel groups, and spent his early career travelling across the United States, Canada and Cuba.[2] In Chicago, he decided to switch from gospel and rhythm and blues to playing in jazz bands. He played piano with the bands of King Kolax, Joe Houston, Johnny Otis and Big Jay McNeely before switching to organ. He also played piano and organ at a neighborhood lounge on the west side of Chicago, the Squeeze Club on 16th. & Homan. In 1960, he arrived in New York City where he met Lou Donaldson and Grant Green, and played on a few Blue Note sessions with them. This led to Willette being signed to Blue Note, which recorded his debut album Face to Face in 1961.[2] Willette formed his own trio in 1963 and recorded two more albums for Argo.[1]

Willette taught himself to play the piano. His organ playing was inspired by Jimmy Smith's work, though Willette's style is more heavily influenced by gospel and soul jazz than Smith's. Willette was also a professional hairdresser. Before his time in New York City, he was based out of Milwaukee, playing with his vocalist wife Jo Gibson at clubs such as The Flame Club, The Pelican Club, The Moonglow and Max's among others. After stints in New York City, and then California, failing health forced a return to Chicago, where his family resided. He died in 1971.


As LeaderEdit

As SidemanEdit


  1. ^ a b Allmusic Biography "Baby Face" Willette Accessed: December 1, 2006
  2. ^ a b Robert Levin, Booklet of Face to Face

External linksEdit

  • Tanzilo, Bobby (September 11, 2019). "Behind the 8 Ball". On Milwaukee.