Artist and musician Ralph Lee Williams, more popularly known by his performing name Ralph "Yohuru" Williams, died on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, about a week before his 76th birthday. Williams is the father of Dr. Yohuru Williams, the Distinguished University Chair and Professor of History and founding director of the Racial Justice Initiative at the University of St. Thomas.
The elder Williams was born in Mullins, South Carolina, the son of Omie Williams-Jefferson and Dock Cleveland Williams. He moved to Connecticut in 1966 where he took classes at Berklee College of Music. After working in several state and federal anti-poverty programs, in 1973 he accepted a position as the head music teacher for the ABCD Cultural Arts Center, where he worked until 1986.
During his career, Williams mentored and taught music and art to thousands of youth in Bridgeport, Hartford, and Waterbury, Connecticut. A sought-after artist and performer (jazz and traditional African drumming), he served as a Master Teacher for the Connecticut Commission on the Arts and over the course of his life performed with such well-known musical talents as Don Elliot, Leo Smith and Alan Braufman. He was the musical composer for the theatrical cartoon "Who's in Rabbit's House" (1995) narrated by James Earl Jones, and was a featured contributor along with Sir Paul McCartney in the children's activity book, Open Ears: Creative Adventures in Music and Sound (1995).
His innovative artwork utilizing trash was also profiled in The New York Times (1993). He was deeply loved and cherished by his family, friends, colleagues and students. He is survived by his devoted wife, Elizabeth Williams (Connecticut); his two sons, Yotisse Williams (Connecticut) and Dr. Yohuru Williams (Minnesota); and one daughter, Yohanna VanHandel (Connecticut); as well as seven grandchildren.
A celebration of his life is to be announced.