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Ralph "Bama" Willis was an outstanding Piedmont-style blues singer and guitarist, so named as he was born and raised in Alabama. He was not heard from until the late '30s, when he was known to have relocated to North Carolina and to work in the circle of musicians centering around Blind Boy Fuller, although Willis did not record with Fuller. By the time Ralph Willis did make it into studio, for the tiny, New York-based Regis label in 1944, his assimilation of Fuller's sound and style was already complete. Willis would continue to record with regularity through 1953, producing 50 sides altogether for Savoy, Signature, 20th Century, Abbey, Jubilee, Prestige, Par, and King.
Willis' material was all generally original, and rooted in his experience as a rural stylist, although during his recording career he lived and worked in New York City. Admittedly Willis' best recordings are the ones he made solo, as they have the most liberated sense of rhythm, but over time the record companies that employed Willis would prefer it when he worked with an accompanist. At first, little-known guitarist/bassist Judson Coleman joined Willis on his 20th Century sides, made in 1946. By 1949, Willis' old friend Brownie McGhee was backing him up on his dates; Willis would have known McGhee from their days with Fuller. For Willis' final sessions on Par, Prestige, and King in 1952 and 1953, Willis was joined by both McGhee and McGhee's regular partner Sonny Terry.
Willis never departed from the rural blues idiom in which he was best able. His recordings demonstrate a remarkable variety of styles, ranging from the languid, relaxed type of sad, slow blues that Brownie McGhee also specialized in when playing alone, to uptempo country dance numbers. Willis never jumped on the folk bandwagon, nor did he demonstrate any desire to upgrade his sound to an R&B format. Some of his records were issued under pseudonyms, such as Alabama Slim, Washboard Pete and Sleepy Joe (all used on his Savoy recordings.) When Willis died in New York City in 1957 he was only about 43 years old.
Ralph Willis AO (born 14 April 1938), Australian politician, was Treasurer for the final years of the Keating Labor Government.
Willis was born in Melbourne to Stan and Doris Willis and educated at Footscray Central School, University High School and Melbourne University, gaining a Bachelor of Commerce degree. He subsequently worked as a research officer and industrial advocate for the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU). He and his wife Carol Willis (née Dawson) have three children, Sandra, Fiona and Evan.
In 1972, the year that the Whitlam Labor government was elected, Willis was elected as a Labor member of the House of Representatives for the extremely safe Labor seat of Gellibrand in Melbourne's western suburbs. He was elected to the Opposition front bench after Labor's defeat in 1975, and was Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations, Economic Affairs and Treasury from 1976 to 1983. In January 1983, however, he was dropped from the position as shadow Treasurer by Labor leader Bill Hayden, who decided that Paul Keating would be likely to put increased pressure on the government in the area of economic policy.
As a former ACTU official, Willis was regarded as a protegee of the new Labor leader, Bob Hawke (a former ACTU President), who became Prime Minister in March 1983. Hawke, however, kept Keating in the Treasury portfolio and Willis became Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. In 1987, he lost part of his portfolio to John Dawkins, who was appointed Minister for Employment, Education and Training, but Willis retained Industrial Relations. In 1988 he shifted to Transport and Communications, and in 1990 to Finance. When Keating resigned as Treasurer in 1991, Willis was again passed over when Hawke gave the Treasury to John Kerin. But Kerin's period as Treasurer was troubled and in December 1991 Willis finally became Treasurer.
Willis's first tenure in the Treasury was brief, however, because Hawke was deposed and succeeded as Prime Minister by Keating only three weeks later. Keating gave Treasury to his ally John Dawkins and Willis was again given Finance. Willis got a second chance when Dawkins, frustrated by Cabinet's rejection of his economic views, resigned suddenly in December 1993. Keating was reluctant to give Willis Treasury again, considering him a low-key Parliamentary performer, but accepted party opinion that Willis deserved the job. Willis served the last term of the Keating government as Treasurer.
One of Willis's final acts, a few days before the 1996 election, was to release (without consulting Keating) a letter purportedly written by the Premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett, which suggested that a Liberal government led by John Howard would cut grants to the states. Unfortunately for Willis, the letter was a forgery, allegedly foisted on Willis by Melbourne University Liberal Club students. This successful ruse impacted somewhat upon the last week of Labor's campaign. After the election Willis retired to the backbench following Labor's defeat in 1996 and retired from Parliament prior to the 1998 election.
At the time of his retirement, Willis was the only Labor Member of Parliament from the period of the Whitlam government still serving. Had he not retired, he would have become Father of the House in the next parliament.
Since retirement from parliament Willis has served on several boards of companies and charities (see below).
Willis was awarded the Centenary Medal in 2001 for long service to the Commonwealth Parliament, including as a minister and as Treasurer. On 13 June 2011, he was named an Officer of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to the Parliament of Australia, particularly in the areas of economic development and industrial relations, to the superannuation industry, and to the community.
On 2 June 2009, Willis was conferred with the degree of Doctor of the University Honoris Causa from Victoria University for services to Australia and in particular the Western Suburbs of Melbourne.