Billy Paul, a jazz and soul singer whose career spanned more than 60 years and is best known for the No. 1 hit classic Me and Mrs. Jones, has died at the age of 80.

Mr. Paul, who had been diagnosed recently with pancreatic cancer, died Sunday at his home in Blackwood, N.J., said his co-manager, Beverly Gay.

Mr. Paul was one of many so-called “Philly soul” singers who found success with the writing and producing team of Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff, whose Philadelphia International Records also released music by the O’Jays, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, and Lou Rawls.

Me and Mrs. Jones was an extramarital confession and a characteristic Mr. Gamble and Mr. Huff production, setting Mr. Paul’s thick tenor against a lush and sensuous arrangement. Many fans best remember the moment when his otherwise subtle vocals jump as they reach the title words, stretching out “me” and “and” into multiple syllables and repeating “Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Jones.”

His voice made him “one of the great artists to come out of Philly and to be celebrated worldwide,” Mr. Gamble and Mr. Huff said in a statement. “Our proudest moment with Billy was the recording of the salacious smash Me and Mrs. Jones. In our view, it is one of the greatest love songs ever recorded,” they said.

The song was one of the top singles of 1972 and brought Mr. Paul a Grammy the following year for best male rhythm and blues performance, with runners-up including Ray Charles and Curtis Mayfield. Mr. Paul remained identified with the song for the rest of his life.

He continued to perform live until he fell ill and his manager said he had been lining up numerous appearances at the time of his death. Among his favourites in concert was a cover version of Purple Rain, by Prince, who died last Thursday.

Mr. Paul was born Paul Williams, on Dec. 1, 1934, but later agreed to his manager’s suggestion that he change his name to Billy Paul to avoid confusion with songwriter Paul Williams and other musicians with the same name. A Philadelphia native, he sang much his life, performing with such jazz stars as Charlie Parker and Dinah Washington and being featured on a handful of singles while still in his teens.

Drafted into the U.S. military in his early 20s, he found himself on the same base in Germany with a couple of famous show business names – Elvis Presley and Gary Crosby, Bing Crosby’s son.

“We said we’re going to start a band, so we didn’t have to do any hard work in the service,” Mr. Paul told bluesandsoul.com in 2015. “We tried to get Elvis to join but he wanted to be a jeep driver. So me and Gary Crosby, we started it and called ourselves the Jazz Blues Symphony Band.”

By the mid-1960s, the Beatles had inspired him to incorporate more R&B into his singing and he had found a new home for his recordings after meeting Mr. Gamble at a Philadelphia music shop. His early albums, including Ebony Woman and Going East, sold modestly, before Me and Mrs. Jones briefly made him a superstar.

Mr. Paul faced many obstacles following his biggest hit. Radio stations resisted his more socially conscious follow-up song in 1972, Am I Black Enough for You? and Rev. Jesse Jackson was among those who objected to the explicit Let’s Make a Baby.

Years later, Mr. Paul sued Mr. Gamble and Mr. Huff and other industry officials over unpaid royalties and was awarded $500,000 by a Los Angeles jury in 2003. Although he endured many difficult moments with Mr. Gamble and Mr. Huff, he looked back on those years as a golden age. “It was like a family full of music,” he told bluesandsoul.com. “It was like music round the clock … I still wish those days were here.”

He leaves his wife, Blanche Williams, with whom he had two children.

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Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

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