The term "living legend" is often overused, but with Walter Williams, founding member of The O'Jays, there can be little argument that the honorable tag truly applies. A pioneer of the 70’s soul music, Walter and The O’Jays produced 18 hit albums and 52 hit singles, 12 of which reached number 1 on the major music charts. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.
Just some of the classic numbers that live on include “Love Train,” “Lovin’ You,” “I Love Music,” “Use Ta Be my Girl,” “Back Stabbers,” “Let Me Make Love To You,” “Just Another Lonely Night,” “Don’t Take Your Love Away,” “Heart Breaker,” "Imagination,” and “For the Love of Money,” which became the theme song of the reality show The Apprentice.
Walter Williams, Sr., born August 25, 1943, is the baritone/bass multi-range vocalist of the R&B /pop/vocal group The O’Jays and Walter, with his childhood friend Eddie Levert, has led The O’Jays for more than 50 years. The pair began singing on a gospel radio show in their hometown of Canton, Ohio, in 1958. Joined by three additional friends – William Powell, Bobby Massey and Bill Isles -- the group transitioned through several names, including the “Triumphs” and “The Mascots,” until in 1969, when they took on the name “The O’Jays,” which stuck as they embarked on their successful recording and touring career.
While on tour in 1983, Walter began experiencing numbness in his legs and torso. After two months and visits with several doctors, Walter was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. "When they first told me I had MS it frightened me. I didn't know what to expect,” reports Walter. “I was really down for the first 3-4 weeks then I got angry and decided I was going to fight back. Though at the time there weren’t any treatments available, I was determined not to let this disease slow me down. I stayed active and continued to do what I loved — perform with the O'Jays."
But Walter experienced a severe episode of MS in 1999 and decided to speak with his doctor about treatment options. By then, several disease-modifying therapies for MS had been developed and Walter began treatment with AVONEX (interferon beta 1-a), which for him has worked well, keeping him relapse free.
Walter continues to tour the world with The O’Jays, who in 2004, recorded their latest album, Imagination, under the Music World label. In addition, he has begun to pursue other artistic opportunities. He has embarked on an acting career and will begin writing a book in the near future. In 2003, Walter appeared in the movie The Fighting Temptations and recorded the duet “He Still Loves Me” with Beyoncé as part of the movie’s soundtrack. In 2009 the group was awarded BET’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
“When I was first diagnosed, I didn’t know what MS was so I didn’t know what to expect,” Walter said. “However, now I know my MS pretty well and even though it can be a very unpredictable disease, I think my continued success in life and in my career is thanks to having a positive attitude and taking advantage of treatments currently available to manage the disease.”