Jean Williams, one of Billboard's first African-American editorial staffers and the magazine's first R&B editor, has died. A memorial service for the pioneering journalist, who died Jan. 31 of cancer at Kaiser Hospital in Harbor City (Los Angeles), Calif., is being held this week (Feb. 10) in Inglewood, Calif. Her age was unavailable at press time.
Born in North Carolina and raised in Philadelphia, Williams initially put her journalism career on hold to become a professional fashion model. She then relocated to Los Angeles to relaunch her journalism career as one of the first black women journalists in the city. She joined Billboard's editorial staff in the '70s, first as a general assignment reporter and four years later advanced to R&B editor. She was also married to the late James Cleaver, then-executive editor of the Los Angeles Sentinel newspaper.
J.R. Reynolds, who served as Billboard's R&B editor in the '90s, says, "I recognized that my turn in that job could not have come without the important contributions that Jean pioneered in the position. She opened an important door that paved the way for black music to be acknowledged and recognized throughout the entertainment industry."
After leaving Billboard, Williams established Leigh-Hi Industries, an entertainment industry consulting firm that she operated for 10 years. She later worked in real estate and also formed A Better U, a non-profit organization dedicated to assisting female cancer survivors.
Williams is survived by her mother, Annie B. Crudup, daughter Gail Patridge-Franklin, son-in-law Roger Franklin, sister Barbara Crudup, two grandchildren, a great-grandson and a host of other relatives and friends. Her memorial service is being held Feb. 10 at 11 a.m. at True Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Inglewood, Calif. Donations to A Better U can be sent to 3509 West 82nd Street, Inglewood, CA, 90305.