William Willes was born on July 5, 1814, in Woolwich, Kent, England, to Thomas Willes and Sarah Hawkes of Essex, England. He moved to Cardiff, Glamorgan, Wales, in about 1836 where he was the head of a boys’ school. He lost his position as a result of converting to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 1848. He was one of the first Latter-day Saint missionaries to enter India. He served two missions to East India, and one to England. His family emigrated to America and settled in Utah in approximately 1851.
In 1839, he married Ann Kibbey and they had five children. His other wives were: Sarah Jane Walters, Mary Pricilla Griffiths, Elizabeth Wyatt, Sarah Ann Wyatt, and Harriet Kibbey. He had twelve known children.
Willes was an accomplished singer and lyricist. He premiered a song by Eliza R. Snow at the Salt Lake City Fourth of July celebration in 1861. In 1872, he collected and published "The Mountain warbler," which also contained some of William's lyrics. He wrote the words to the hymn “Come Along, Come Along” (#244) and “Thanks for the Sabbath School” (#278), which were included in the 1985 Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He wrote the words to numerous other songs published by the Church.
He passed away on November 3, 1890.
William Willes is no relation to early Latter-day Saint William S. S. Willes.