Williams was born Egbert Austin Williams on the island of Antigua, then part of the British West Indies. In 1888 his family moved to Los Angeles, California. He began his entertainment career in 1892 in San Francisco.
Bert Williams became Vaudeville's top artists, both as a solo performer and as part of the successful double-act "Williams & Walker" with partner George Walker. After Walker's death he for some years performed with Eddie Cantor.
Bert Williams was a key figure in the development of Afro American music. In an age when racial inequality and stereotyping were an 'accepted' part of life, he became the first black American to take a lead role on the Broadway stage, and did much to push back the racial barriers during his career. His songs (mostly self-written and displaying a dry wit and observational humour) such as "Nobody" and "All Going Out And Nothing Coming In" proved popular with audiences of all races paving the way for future generations of black artists. Williams died on stage in 1922 whilst singing "Under The Bamboo Tree".