Henry Stone Music

William Eaton Was Aretha Franklin’s Musical Director, Then Made a TK Records Album


“Until Bill Eaton released his new TK-Marlin LP, “Struggle Buggy”, only record industry insiders knew his name. But even the most casual music lovers knew his music. They’d heard the arrangement of Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t Nothin’ Like The Real Thing” for which he won a Grammy (Eaton was Aretha Franklin’s musical director for two and a half years). They’d heard Eaton’s arrangements on LP’s by Roberta Flack, Valerie Simpson, Dorie Previn, Don McLean, Leon Redbone, Lucy Simon (Carly’s sister), Kenny Loggins, Peter Allen, Melba Moore, Phoebe Snow and dozens of others. They’d heard the Eaton-composed NBC sports theme every time they watched a sports event of NBC-TV (the tune won Bill Eaton a Cleo).

And they’d heard Bill Eaton’s arrangements or compositions on TV commercials for the United College Fund (sung by Ray Charles), Charlie, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Chevrolet, McDonald’s, Pepsi Cola, Schlitz, and Dr. Pepper (where Eaton’s arrangements are sung by Gladys Knight and the Pips, Donna Summer, The Temptations, Chaka Khan and Rufus and Chuck Berry).”

“Bill Eaton was born in Harlem and raised in Durham, North Carolina. He took up the clarinet in 7th grade, went on to major in music at North Carolina Central University, then came to New York to become a classical clarinetist. “I started to meet profess”ional singers,” he recalls, “and they were doing things a lot more interesting than instrumentalists sitting with 70 other players in an orchestra pit. The singers were going into recording studios and appearing . onstage in Broadway shows.”

So Eaton started singing with people like Donald Byrd, Sonny Stitt, Max Roach, the Ray Charles Singers and Dionne Warwick. In 1960, Eaton auditioned for Harry Belafonte (singing one of Schubert’s lied), became one of Belafonte’s vocalists,and met Belafonte’s conga player, a seventeen-year-old named Ralph MacDonald. When Eaton left Belafonte’s organization ten years later, he had become the Calypso master’s musical director. And MacDonald, who left Belafonte at the same time, had begun a studio career that was to make him the top percussionist in the music business. MacDonald started a music publishing company with his songwriting partner Bill Salter (also a Belafonte alumnus) …. and Eaton joined.

Since then the company (Antisia) has become one of the biggest Black-owned publishing firms in the world. Eaton has become one of the top arranger and composers in his field. And the Grammy and Cleo-award winners’ first solo LP (featuring performances by the Brecker Brothers, Tom ~Scott, Richard Tee, Eric Gale, Hugh McCracken, Steven Gadd and Anthony Jackson) will demonstrate that the behind-the-scenes sounds of William Eaton are ready to come out front where they belong.”

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