Jesse Williams Jr., an arts businessman who owned the Third World Imports shop in Harper Court, and had a lifelong passion for jazz, died on Dec. 24, 2021, of cancer. His family had his memorial service last weekend.
He was born in Bronzeville in 1938 to Jesse Williams Sr. and Beulah Jefferson Williams and had four brothers, Clarence (“Pete”), Bruce, Ronald and Timothy (“Tim”), who grew up to be the artist Nii Oti. Jesse Jr.n Began working multiple jobs at age 12; at 13, he began wearing Brooks Brothers, a habit he continued until the day he died. The family moved to Englewood when Jesse Sr. and Beulah bought a house, and the boys were raised in a traditional, strict and religious household. Jesse Jr. became an atheist as a teenager after careful consideration.
He lived out two careers in his life, in the corporate world and in the arts.
In the arts, he played the trumpet through school and loved jazz. He was present at the recording of pianist Ahmad Jamal’s January 1958 recording of “Live at the Pershing.” Williams founded the Third World Art Fair in Hyde Park in the early 1970s and ran it for five years and volunteered for the Jazz Institute of Chicago, developing its first computerized membership database. He sat on the board of Africa House International for 10 years, serving as treasurer and helping to produce the African Festival of the Arts during that time. Ultimately, he picked up his trumpet again and he founded Soundmine Studios and Openmind Records. He played with the Merchants as well as the Southside Big Band.
Williams also attended the Chicago Teachers College (now Chicago State University), where he pledged Alpha Phi Alpha, and started and/or owned three art businesses, the first of which he opened with his brother Tim. But he began his working life at IBM in 1958, working on programming and implementing software for the first commercial communications satellite while working for Continental Bank. He retired from Morton International in 1999 after 25 years of service.
He married three times, the first time to Barbara with whom he had a son, Gregory, and the second time to Jean (aka Densua). They lived in Highland Park and blended their families, with Jean’s son Ronald and another son, Bruce, from their union. After another divorce, he married Beth Ann, with whom he had a 40-year relationship and bought two vacation properties in the Virgin Islands as investments, a 25-unit apartment building and a commercial property that was renovated into the Soundmine Recording Studio, 8043 S. Stony Island Ave.
Beth Ann survives him, as do his sons Ronald and Bruce, Bruce’s wife Kenya, and grandchildren Jame, Hannah, Ronald Jr., Maasai and Wake.