Will T. Briggs Jr. (Billy)
Will T. Briggs, Jr. (Billy) was born in Calvert, Texas on January 20, 1923, and passed away peacefully in Plano, Texas on February 28, 2022.
Billy (as he was known to many) started playing clarinet as a freshman in high school. His first professional job came at age 14 playing at a club 20 miles from home with a local band. He continued to play clarinet for two years and then received his first tenor saxophone.
During World War II, he was recruited to be a musician in the U.S. Army Air Corps Band and was sent to Blackland Air Force Base in Waco, Texas where he played for three years. While performing at a USO dance, he met the woman he would love and adore for the rest of his life, Agnes Saffle. Agnes and Billy married on September 6, 1945 in Waco. They were married for more than 62 years until her death in 2008.
Although he played clarinet and alto sax, Billy had a unique sound that brought energy and drive to any band when he performed with his 1938 Martin tenor saxophone, also fondly known as “Baby.” He acquired the horn shortly before leaving the service in 1946.
After being discharged, Billy joined his first touring band, a trio called The Regents, who appeared at various hotels and lounges across the United States. In 1950, Billy had the opportunity to sit in with western swing legend Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. One month after that appearance, he was invited to join the band. He toured with them for a year.
Upon leaving Wills’ band, he attended Draughon’s Business College in Dallas and after graduating, became employed in the purchasing department at the Mobil Oil Field Research Lab in Duncanville, Texas. While working for Mobil, he performed at least three nights a week with his own band, the Bill Briggs Trio, appearing at Dallas area hotels and country clubs.
After a 32-year career, he retired from Mobil and played with various bands at clubs and events both in and out of state – all with Agnes by his side.
Billy performed with numerous bands playing musical styles ranging from western swing to jazz to Dixieland. He did it all, but western swing was his favorite. He appeared in three episodes of Austin City Limits with Asleep at the Wheel; worked at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo with the Dave Alexander band for several years; and made numerous appearances at western swing festivals. Over the years, Billy has been recognized for his dedication to western swing music, acknowledged as a Pioneer of Western Swing Music, inducted into the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame and presented the Living Legend of Western Swing Award.
Billy Briggs continued to entertain crowds and play his saxophone “Baby” into his late 90s with various western swing bands as well as performances at the State Fair of Texas with Ron Lawrence and Sazerac Jazz and also twice each month at The Free Man Cajun Cafe in Deep Ellum (in Dallas, Texas) with Jack Allday’s Swing Shift band.
Billy is preceded in death by his wife, Agnes Saffle Briggs; his parents, Bennie and Will T. Briggs Sr.; and his grandson, Mark Moore.
He is survived by his son Will; daughters Susan, Benita, and Ann; sister Sally Kirk; daughter-in-law Patricia Briggs; sons-in-law Tom Moore and Joe Cutaia; grandchildren Christine Erdeljac (Jonathon), Kevin Moore, Andrew Briggs, and Adam Briggs; great granddaughters Madelyn and Stella; and numerous nieces, nephews, and friends.