Claude “Fiddler” Williams (February 22, 1908 – April 26, 2004) was an American jazz violinist and guitarist who recorded and performed into his 90s. He was the first guitarist to record with Count Basie and the first musician to be inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame.
Claude Gabriel Williams was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma on February 22, 1908, the son of Lee J. Williams, a blacksmith, and Laura Williams, home maker. He was the youngest of six children. Talented from a young age, Williams could play multiple instruments in his brother-in-law’s string band: banjo, cello, guitar, mandolin. Their early band played outside, in hotels, and at barbershops around their hometown of Muskogee, Oklahoma and on a circuit up through Oklahoma City. At the time he’d make six to seven dollars for a night of playing. He commented that at this time people would work the whole week for about five or six dollars. At a concert in Muskogee he heard Joe Venuti play, and this inspired Williams to start playing jazz violin.
He went to Kansas City, Missouri in 1927 and became part of the Twelve Clouds of Joy, led by trumpeter Terrence Holder and then Andy Kirk, with Mary Lou Williams on piano. He recorded with them for Brunswick Records the following year. After leaving Kirk, he played in Chicago in a band with Nat King Cole and his brother Eddie Cole and then became the first guitarist to record with Count Basie.