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Marion Williams

With an amazing grace, a powerful yet lyrical voice, and unmatched improvisation skills, Marion Williams punctuated her sanctified shouting with gut-wrenching growls, low moans, joyful whoops, and soaring, angelic falsettos that made her one of the most influential singers in gospel music. In her heyday she was hailed by some critics as one the greatest singers in the U.S.

Williams was born in a Miami ghetto, the daughter of a West Indian butcher and a South Carolina laundry woman. When not working, her father would give music lessons, while her devout mother introduced to her to religion. Williams' own love of gospel music began in childhood, and she would sing and listen to it at every opportunity. One of her older brothers frequently played blues and jazz on the family jukebox; although gospel was Williams' main interest, her music is infused with elements of those jukebox tunes, as well as the calypso music that played throughout her neighborhood. When she was nine, her father died, and at age 14, Williams quit school to work all day in the laundry beside her mother. Later, the responsibility for supporting the family fell totally on Williams' young shoulders when her mother lost both legs due to diabetes. Still, her interest in sanctified gospel continued, and on weekends she sang in church programs and on street corners. She was particularly inspired by the Smith Jubilee Singers (her favorites) and the Kings of Harmony; influential soloists included such women as Mary Johnson Davis and particularly Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Williams' extraordinary singing attracted considerable attention, but though attempts were made to steer her into everything from opera to the blues, she was determined to spread the gospel, and by 1946 was known as the best gospel soloist in Miami.

While at a Clara Ward & the Ward Singers program, Williams was called up to sing. Impressed, Clara and Gertrude Ward invited the young singer to join their nationally known group. The following year, she joined the Wards and remained with them for the next 11 years as their star attraction. Her natural sparkle and enthusiasm in performance earned her the nickname "Miss Personality." She made her recording debut singing "How Far Am I from Canaan" with the Ward Singers in 1948 for Savoy; it was the Rev. W. Herbert Brewster-penned "Surely God Is Able" that made Williams and the Ward Singers stars. During their dynamic performances, it was not uncommon for audience members to fall out in frenzied ecstasy, something Williams encouraged by getting right down into the audience, sashaying about, and shouting at the top of her lungs, occasionally sitting demurely upon listeners' laps, and even literally trying to pack up the earthly goods of audience members during her renditions of her second big hit, "Packin' Up." She put so much into her performances with the Ward Singers that in time she began suffering "nervous spells" in which she would yell just to express the remaining energy generated by singing those high notes. Williams and a few others from the group left in 1958 to form Stars of Faith.

The Stars of Faith got off to a rocky start as they lacked many of the things that made the Wards great, including Gertrude's ability to manage, Clara's driving vision, and Brewster's exquisite songs. It did not help that Williams was not putting the energy into singing as she did with the Wards. She frequently allowed other group members to do the shouting and avoided the vocal extremes that characterized her earlier work. The lull continued until 1961, when she again found Jesus and approached music with renewed vigor. She and the Stars got major exposure when they appeared in the off-Broadway production Black Nativity and began touring North America and Europe. Williams left the group in 1965 to launch a solo career. Returning to Europe, she appeared in an unsuccessful show until her mother's death caused her to go back to Miami. It was at her mother's funeral that she became committed, bringing back her old fire to her new career. Starting at Yale, Williams began a long series of college campus tours that gave her the opportunity to thrill audiences in North America, Europe (where she also appeared at jazz festivals), Africa, and the Caribbean with stirring renditions of such great songs as "Jesus Is All" and her biggest solo hit, the reflective "Standing Here Wondering Which Way to Go."

Though she died in 1994, Marion Williams' influence upon contemporary music continues to be felt. Back in the '50s, her unique singing style, that inimitable hollering and whooping, inspired artists such as Little Richard and the Isley Brothers to emulate her. ~ Sandra Brennan
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: A Voice Of Hope

1. Great Big God

2. Blowin' In The Wind

3. Without Love

4. Even Me

5. The Exodus Song

6. Ain't It A Shame

7. Without A Song

8. What Goes Around

9. The Eagle And Me (From "Bloomer Girl")

10. The Day Is Past And Gone

x

Track List: The Great Gospel Voice Of Marion Williams

1. Joy To The World

2. (There'll Be) Peace In The Valley

3. Somebody Bigger Than You Or I

4. He'll Understand

5. Swing Low, Sweet Chariot

6. Michael Row The Boat Ashore

7. When Was Jesus Born

8. Amazing Grace

9. I'm Looking To Jesus

10. Packin' Up

11. He's Got The Whole World In His Hands

12. O Come, All Ye Faithful

x

Track List: Packin' Up: The Very Best Of Marion Williams

1. Press On Like The Bible Said

2. Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah

3. Motherless Children

4. Nobody Knows, Nobody Cares

5. Cool Down Yonder

6. The Old Landmark

7. Angels With Their Gaze

8. Promises To Keep

9. Swing Low Sweet Chariot

10. Didn't It Rain

11. When Death Shall Determine My Stay Here

12. Move On Up A Little Higher

13. How Far Am I From Canaan

14. I've Come So Far

15. The New Burying Ground

16. I've Got To Live The Life I Talk About In My Song

17. Sometimes I Ring Up Heaven

18. The New You've Got To Move

19. I Have A Friend Above All Others

20. Precious Memories

21. If You See My Savior

22. I Don't Know Why

23. Talk About Jesus

24. I'm A Stranger

25. I'll Be All Right

26. Packin' Up

x

Track List: This Too Shall Pass

1. Dead Cat On The Line

2. How I Got Over

3. It's Your Time Now

4. The Day Is Passed And Gone

5. This Thing Wasn't Done In A Corner

6. This Too Shall Pass

7. Drinking Of The Holy Wine

8. Anyhow

9. Nobody's Fault But Mine

10. Beams Of Heaven

x

Track List: Blessed Assurance

1. Introduction & Opening Remarks (Live In Philadelphia)

2. Blessed Assurance (Live In Philadelphia)

3. Dialogue #1 (Live In Philadelphia)

4. Heaven Belongs To You (Live In Philadelphia)

5. Dialogue #2 (Live In Philadelphia)

6. It Is Well With My Soul (Live In Philadelphia)

7. Intermission Remarks (Live In Philadelphia)

8. Dialogue #3 (Live In Philadelphia)

9. These Old Burdens (Live In Philadelphia)

10. Dialogue #4 (Live In Philadelphia)

11. The Place The Righteous Call Home (Live In Philadelphia)

12. Jesus Jesus (Live In Philadelphia)

13. Closing Remarks (Live In Philadelphia)

14. Benediction (Live In Philadelphia)

x

Track List: Standing Here Wondering Which Way To Go

1. He Aint Heavy, He's My Brother

2. Stand Here Wondering Which Way To Go

3. Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There Is A Season)

4. This Generation Shall Not Pass

5. My Sweet Lord

6. Heaven Help Us All

7. Make Peace With Yourself

8. Wicked Messenger

9. Put Your Hand In The Hand

10. Danger Zone

11. Hare Krishna

x

Track List: Remember Me

1. How I Got Over (Live)

2. God Bless The Child (Live)

3. Standing Here Wondering Which Way To Go

4. Take My Hand Precious Lord

5. Drunkards Down There

6. City Called Heaven

7. Surley God Is Able

8. Just Over The Hill

9. Jesus Is All And All

10. The Storm Is Passing Over

11. Bad News Bad Times

12. Remember Me

13. The Lord Will Make A Way Somehow

14. O Death (Death In The Morning)

15. Ain't That Just Like Him

16. O Lord, Remember Me

17. Motherless Child

18. Born To Sing The Gospel

19. A Charge To Keep I Have

20. All Along The Highway

21. Strong Again

22. Jesus Remembers

23. Press On Like The Bible Said

24. The Day Is Past And Gone

x

Track List: The Gospel Soul Of Marion Williams

1. Ain't No Harm Done

2. The Old Sheep Knows The Road

3. This Train

4. I've Come So Far

5. Ain't No Stranger Now

6. Out Of The Depths

7. He Knows How Much We Can Bear

8. The Man I'm Looking For

9. I Thank You Lord

10. Victory Ahead

11. The Fight Is On

12. My Hope

13. Nobody But You Lord

14. Dark Was The Night

15. Walk Around

16. There Are They

17. Jesus Traveled This Road Before

18. Lord I Thank You

19. Savior Don’t Pass Me By

20. Let Him Come In

21. I'll Fly Away

22. Go Preach My Gospel

23. Just A Closer Walk With Thee

24. Sit Down Servant

x

Track List: Through Many Dangers

1. If You Just Hold Out

2. Through Many Dangers

3. Motherless Children

4. We Shall Overcome

5. I've Got To Live The Life I Sing About In My Song

6. Sinner Man

7. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen

8. I've Got Promises To Keep

9. It's Real

10. Somebody Saved Me

11. Solid Rock

12. Even Me

13. Close To Thee

14. Said He Would

15. A Charge To Keep I Have

16. How Far Am I From Canaan

17. I've Come So Far

18. Precious Memories

19. The Old Ship Of Zion

20. What Are They Doing In Heaven Today

21. The New Dead Cat On The Line

22. O Gabriel

23. I Do, Don't You

24. At The Cross

25. Blessed Assurance

26. If You See My Savior

27. Anywhere In Glory

28. Trouble So Hard

29. O Lord How Long

30. A Final Moan

x

Track List: Born To Sing The Gospel

1. We Shall Be Changed

2. Standing Here Wondering Which Way To Go

3. Ain't That Just Like Him

4. Packin' Up

5. I've Come So Far

6. Sometimes I Ring Up Heaven

7. Christ Is All, Jesus Is All

8. Must I Be To Judgement Brought

9. I Shall Know Him

10. Cool Down Yonder

11. Born To Sing The Gospel

12. O Death (Death In The Morning)

13. The Lifeboat Is Coming

14. I'm On My Way

15. Heaven In My View

16. Sow Righteous Seeds

17. If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again

x

Track List: My Soul Looks Back

1. I Just Can't Help It

2. Precious Lord

3. In The Upper Room

4. Stretch Out

5. Poor Pilgrim Of Sorrow

6. Revive Us Again

7. The Great Speckled Bird

8. Dead Cat On The Line

9. I'm Beggin' You Please

10. Stand By Me

11. Look At The People

12. How I Got Over

13. The Moan

14. Farther Along

15. It's Your Time Now

16. Poor Little Jesus

17. Thy Servant's Prayer Amen

18. I Looked Down The Line

19. Even Me

20. Just One Moment

21. Can't No Grave Hold My Body Down

22. Beams Of Heaven

23. Packin' Up

24. Surely God Is Able

25. My Soul Looks Back

x

Track List: Can't Keep It To Myself

1. Got On My Traveling Shoes

2. Ain't He Good

3. God's Amazing Grace

4. Come Out The Corner

5. Leave You In The Hands Of The Lord

6. Ride In The Clouds

7. Press On (Like The Bible Said)

8. The New Gospel Train

9. Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen

10. I'll Never Return No More

11. Hark The Voice

12. Packin' Up

13. Live The Life I Sing About In My Song

14. I Heard The Voice

15. I'm So Glad

16. I Have A Friend

17. O Lord Remember Me

18. Were You There When They Crucified My Lord

19. Loose The Man

20. Lazarus

21. Mary Mary

22. I Just Can' T Keep It To Myself

x

Track List: The New Message

1. I Shall Be Released

2. Around God's Throne

3. People Got To Be Free

4. I'm Going To Live The Life I Sing About In My Song

5. The Great Speckled Bird

6. I Have A Friend Above All Others

7. Will The Circle Be Unbroken

8. Milky White Way

9. How I Got Over

10. I Pity The Poor Immigrant

Comments

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Buena music
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Awesome
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This is revival intense!
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wonderful
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Among the top five gospel singers of the twentieth century. Recognized by the MacArthur Foundation ("genius award") and the Kennedy Center but still lacks widespread public props even among black people who presumably "know" something about our American musical heritage.
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GREAT

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